Wednesday, December 21, 2011

“Biggest Losers” in The Bronx: obesity rates drop for schoolchildren

From The Bronx Free Press
Tiana Moronta, 11, said at first it was hard to change old eating habits.

But, much to her surprise, she discovered that she liked eating broccoli and asparagus.

“I know how to control myself and eat different kinds of foods that are healthy for me,” said the sixth grader.

Moranta and her P.S./I.S. 218 classmates are the beneficiaries of citywide initiatives that have led to a decrease in childhood obesity.

Since 2007, obesity rates have declined by 5.5 percent in New York City public school children ages 5 – 14.

The decline translates into 6,500 fewer obese kids.

The biggest decrease was in children ages 5-6, with a ten percent drop in obesity.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, together with Borough President Ruben Diaz, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and other city administration officials, announced the news at their school on Thurs., Dec. 15th.

Appropriately enough, the Mayor made the announcement at the school cafeteria salad bar.

“If you can stop children from becoming obese,” Bloomberg said, “then there is a greater chance they will not be obese as adults.”

According to the report issued, this marks the biggest decline in childhood obesity reported to date by any large city in the country, and is particularly a contrast to the stagnant nationwide rates. The declining rates were measured through NYC FITNESSGRAM, a fitness assessment and reporting program for New York City youth in kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Mayor Bloomberg touted the collaborative efforts of the City Council on the healthy living intiatives, pointing specifically to the work of Councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Chair of the Health Committee and Councilmember Robert Jackson, Chair of the Education Committee.

Yet one in every five school children remains obese. Black and Hispanic children also suffer from higher obesity rates than their white and Asian peers.

According to the study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the biggest decline, 12.5 percent, was for white children. The decline for Asian children was 7.6 percent. Obesity rates for Hispanic children declined by 3.4 percent and black children’s rates declined by 1.9 percent.

Borough President Diaz said that even though there was much work still to be done, rates were going in the right direction. If the city has beautiful schools, parks and buildings, but its citizens aren’t healthy, the Borough President said, none of that matters.

“We do this for the future,” Diaz said.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the decline comes after a relentless rise in American obesity rates. But the disease is still driving a twin epidemic of diabetes.

“It’s never a child’s fault if he’s obese,” Farley said. “Obesity happens when a child lives in an environment where it’s too easy to consume too many calories.”

The mayor said improved cafeteria food was one main reason for the decline. Deep fried foods were eliminated and replaced with fresh fruits, vegetables and salad bars. Low fat milk and water were substituted for sugary drinks.

Principal Leticia Rosario the school’s salad bar was very popular with students. The school also implemented programs for parents, offering exercise classes and a 10-week program on cooking, shopping and selecting health foods.

Children are also getting more exercise and eating healthier snacks.

“If this is just starting,” said principal Leticia Rosario, “I can only imagine what’s going to happen five years down the road.”

Cahira Echavarria, 11, told the mayor and elected officials that eating vegetables are better for you. After the press conference, she confided that programs fighting obesity were personally important to her.

“My seven-year sister is obese,” she said. “I wouldn’t want anything happening to her.”
To read the CDC’s obesity study, here is a link:
And to hear directly how Borough President Ruben Diaz helps his own family control their food portions, including “Abuelita,” please visit here:

To hear the ways Tiana Moronta, 11, is adopting healthier nutritional habits, and who is helping, visit here:

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