The Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. —
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's obesity rate in high school students has dropped, knocking the state's teens out of the number one spot down to number five in obesity nationwide.
A 2011 survey finds the rate of obesity among Mississippi high school students down to 16.5 percent from 18.1 percent in 2009.
That sounds like great news, but the state Health Department warns that the drop is not statistically significant, meaning the change could stem from random statistical variance in the survey. Mississippi remains above the national average for obesity among high school students, which is 13 percent.
Still, health officials say they believe a number of statewide efforts to fight fat are succeeding.
"We are very encouraged to see this decline in obesity rates among our high school students. Although the change from two years ago is not statistically significant, it's the first time in ten years we have seen any decline at all in Mississippi's adolescent obesity rate," said State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier.
Educators and health officials say healthier children miss school less often, focus better in the classroom and develop healthy habits.
For example, they point to the state's 2007, Health Schools Act, which mandated less fat in meals and more physical activity. The Bower Foundation and federal funds have helped nearly 200 schools remove fryers and replace them with a combination oven-steamer.
"It seems these efforts are contributing to improved student health," said Scott Clements, director of Child Nutrition and Healthy Schools at the Mississippi Department of Education.
The share of overweight and obese children in kindergarten through fifth grade fell from 43.6 percent in 2007 to 37.3 percent in 2011. But that study found little progress among black children.
A study published last month by University of Mississippi researchers found that in 11 schools across two counties in the state's Delta region, 47 percent of students in grades 1 to 5 were obese. That study warned that a measurable decline in weight "may not be evident for years."