Michael Motley, MPH
Information on the percentages of Arkansas students who are at healthy weight, overweight, or obese in individual schools and school districts across the state is provided in a new interactive tool on ACHI’s website.
Arkansas ranks 48th among states for obesity among adults, with 37.4% of the adult population being designated as obese in 2019. Research shows that obese or overweight children are more likely to be overweight or obese as adults, which can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other health problems. Initiatives such as Healthy Active Arkansas have led efforts to reduce the state’s obesity rate, including providing the framework for the Healthy Active Arkansas Schools Act of 2021. The act identifies several priorities for Arkansas public schools to address healthy eating and increased physical activity.
In 2003, Arkansas established the first statewide, multifaceted strategy to combat the epidemic of childhood and adolescent obesity. One component of this strategy was the reporting of health risk information to parents through assessments of their children’s height and weight using the body mass index (BMI) screening tool. Since 2003, BMI data have been collected for public school students as part of Arkansas Act 1220. This information is used to confidentially inform parents about their children’s weight status, and it enables identification of aggregated trends, including trends in weight classification percentages by school district, school, and grade, to support a variety of targeted interventions.
In addition to publishing an annual statewide student BMI report, ACHI has created a new school and district BMI dashboard displaying school- and district-level aggregate data that can be used by local stakeholders in the preparation of grant applications and other funding requests to secure support for activities aimed at combating obesity in the state. Along with requiring BMI data for grant proposals, the Arkansas Department of Education has requested schools include BMI information in their annual school improvement plans.
Data for the 2019-20 school year are included in the dashboard. When a district is selected, the combined information is displayed for all of the participating schools in that district. Gender breakdowns are provided for all grades where there are at least 10 students in each weight category for that grade.
Ongoing measurement and evaluation of BMI is critical to combat the childhood obesity epidemic and emergent factors. Anecdotal reports suggest efforts to reduce COVID-19 transmission have contributed to worsening obesity status among children and adults. In the face of these new challenges, access to local-level BMI data will help families, healthcare providers, and researchers address the added barriers to a healthy lifestyle brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.