11/21/2012 10:07:30 AM
An analysis of the heights and weights to calculate their gender-specific BMI (Body Mass Index) for age percentile of school-age children over a three-year period has confirmed what researchers have seen as a trend for years – there is an association between the socio economic status of suburban, rural and urban areas to childhood obesity rates. What researchers did not expect to find was that obesity rates were highest in ultra rural areas, regardless of socio economic status.
The findings were just published in December 2012 Pediatrics® the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The study of approximately 980,000 children between ages five and 12 who attended public school districts in Pennsylvania* was conducted by Michael Horst, PhD, MPHS, MS, Lancaster General Research Institute at Lancaster General Hospital; Lisa Bailey-Davis, MA, RD, Department of Public Health Sciences, College of Medicine, Pennsylvania State University, Hershey, Pennsylvania; Marianne Hillemeier, PhD, MPH, Departments of Health Policy and Administration and Public Health Sciences, Pennsylvania State University; and Alison Lauter, Lancaster General Research Institute at Lancaster General Hospital.
“Nationally, the prevalence of childhood obesity has tripled to 19.6% in the past three decades and while a number of states conduct school-based screening, little is known about the findings,” said Dr. Horst. “Our study was consistent with other findings showing an association between socio economic status and obesity with areas of low socio economic status or high distress as having high obesity rates and areas with high socio economic status or low distress as having low obesity rates.”
Dr. Horst said the major surprise of the school-based survey was that ultra rural areas have the highest obesity rates, regardless of socio economic status and also had overall rates higher than urban school districts.
“In ultra rural areas, this may be caused by limited access to healthy and affordable food, socioeconomic deprivation, limited diversity of physical activities and facilities, and safe access to parks or outdoor recreation. ,” Dr. Horst explained. “The challenges will be to address these issues in these sparsely populated areas. Further research is needed to help us understand factors that may contribute to obesity rates in these ultra rural regions and how they differ from urban, suburban and rural regions. Lower socio economic areas in urban, suburban and rural regions had higher obesity rates and we need further research to identify factors contributing to these rates and how we can impact public policy to address them.”
Dr. Horst added the study opens the door to much discussion on the work that still needs to be done in our communities to further research and address some of these issues.
"These data were obtained at the school district level and reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Health in response to at state mandate requiring public schools to conduct annual surveillance of student growth.
Editor’s Note: Lancaster’s mean obesity rate for the three years of date included in the study for K-6th grade was 15.0% with the PA county mean of 18.6%. Lancaster is in the lowest quartile with Chester, York, Bucks and Montgomery having slightly lower obesity rates; and at the 7th percentile when compared with the rest of the counties in the state.
About the Lancaster General Research Institute
The Lancaster General Research Institute provides research support to all Lancaster General Health (LGH) entities to develop and conduct original research studies. Research conducted focuses on treatment, diagnostic and procedural efficacy in the general hospital and affiliated specialty areas. The Institute also works in conjunction with the Family Medicine Residency Program to provide research opportunities for the advancement of medical education. In addition to supporting physician related research, the Institute also provides consultation and analysis support for projects initiated by the Nursing Department, Lancaster General Allied Health Entities and the Lancaster General College of Nursing and Health Sciences.