In Cumberland, 31 percent of students are overweight, obese

In Cumberland, 31 percent of students are overweight, obese

CUMBERLAND – Some 31 percent of Cumberland children ages 2-17 are either overweight or obese, according to a newly released three-year study by Rhode Island Kids Count and various health partners.

That figure mirrored the average in all other Rhode Island communities combined when excluding the state’s core cities, which saw a 43 percent combined rate. It is 4 percent less than the state average for all youths of 35 percent.

Fourteen communities had lower combined rates, according to the comprehensive data.

Fifteen percent of Cumberland children in the study were found to be overweight, while another 16 percent were deemed obese. Those numbers are 16 percent overweight and 17 percent obese in neighboring Lincoln.

Karin Wetherill, co-director of the Rhode Island Healthy Schools Coalition, shared the data with the Cumberland District Health & Wellness Committee at its meeting Tuesday, calling the data “a call to action, for sure.”

“What was so discouraging for me when I looked at it was to think, this is preventable,” she said. “This is data we all need to be mindful of.”

More younger children are seeing issues being overweight, she said, and problems early in life can lead to impacts as an adult.

According to the report, 26 percent of Rhode Island children ages 2-4 are overweight or obese, and 38 percent of children between ages 5-17 are either overweight or obese.

Children whose body mass index is in the 95th percentile for gender and age are considered to be obese, and children with a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentiles are considered to be overweight or at risk for obesity.

Wetherill said school communities need to be looking at “the whole 100 percent,” focusing even on students who are currently at healthy weights. Especially in a school setting, it’s important to support learning and teaching on health and practice those behaviors, she said, and to work with families.

Educators in Cumberland are very supportive of healthy initiatives, Wetherill said, coming up with new and innovative ways to promote healthy habits in students.

Cumberland is one of the “fully rocked” districts in the Recess Rocks in RI program, with all Cumberland schools having participated in the training program and now prioritizing recess, learning how to help young people establish healthy habits through play.

Supt. Bob Mitchell and others agreed with Wetherill that patterns of unhealthy living in children, including too much screen time and poor eating, is nearing a crisis point. Several shared about what they’re doing to promote better health, including Cumberland High School’s Colin Smith, whose students won prizes in the AdVenture Innovation Challenge. Other efforts include family fitness days, walks to the Monastery, and creative dance classes.

The good news about this study, said Wetherill and Mitchell, is that it provides hard data for the schools to seek grants. Mitchell said town officials, who recently hired a grant writer, may be willing to share her services to seek grants to develop new programs.

The Rhode Island Kids Count data on obesity was based on a first-of-its-kind three-year study working with the Rhode Island Department of Health, Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute, State Innovation Model and three health insurance plans to collect accurate data.