Study: Northeast Texas childhood obesity generally lower than statewide rates
Posted on 09/21/2017
Statewide obesity rates are 22.3 percent for second-graders; 26.7 percent for fourth-graders; 24.2 percent for eighth-graders; and 20.2 percent for 11th-graders.

Though more than 20 percent of children in grades 2 through 11 in Northeast Texas are considered obese, a new report shows rates in this region generally are lower than statewide.

The data from the 2015-16 School Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey, which involved 280 schools in some 70 school districts statewide, was divided into health service regions. Regions 4 and 5 are made up of about 35 Northeast Texas counties, including Gregg, Rusk, Upshur, Harrison and Panola.

The percentage of Northeast Texas obese children in fourth and eighth grades declined in 2015-16 compared with the 2009-11 survey, but the rate increased for 11th-graders.

The survey was part of a partnership between the Texas Department of State Health Services, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Health Living.

Statewide obesity rates are 22.3 percent for second-graders; 26.7 percent for fourth-graders; 24.2 percent for eighth-graders; and 20.2 percent for 11th-graders.


Across the state, South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley had the highest percentage of obese children in fourth grade and tied North Texas for the highest among 11th-graders. North Texas had the highest percentage of obese eighth-graders.

The survey is based on BMI of school-age children, which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. In the survey, obesity was defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile.

More than 17,000 student surveys were collected from Texas students in second, fourth, eighth and 11th grades, with the surveys representing the total 1.3 million students statewide in those grade levels.

This is the fourth SPAN survey in Texas. Others were in 2000-02, 2004-05 and 2009-11.

The study involved measuring the height and weight for participating students, having the students or, in the case of second-graders, their parents, fill out a self-report questionnaire and complete a take-home survey.

As part of the survey, the participants answered questions about their weekly physical activity, sedentary behavior and dietary behavior.

The survey found that one of the troubling trends statewide is about half of fourth-graders and one-fourth of second-graders participate in 60 minutes of physical activity one day or fewer per week.

"It was very concerning for us to see that among the elementary school kids," said Dr. Deanna M. Hoelscher, director of the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living.

Participation in organized sports peaked in the fourth and eighth grades statewide. If students were not playing sports, they were spending a lot of time watching television or using electronic devices, the survey found.

A Longview ISD official said the district takes a dual approach to fighting childhood obesity.

Phyllis Dozier, director for child nutrition at Longview ISD, said the state provides guidelines on portion sizes, calorie numbers and sodium numbers for meals.

The fruit and vegetables provided in school meals help with students' metabolisms and cut calories.

Physical activity is the other way Longview ISD works to keep its students healthy, she said.

"The whole thing about overweight, obesity is caloric intake and activity — and those go hand-in-hand," Dozier said. "So we take care of the calorie side of it, and then physical education takes care of the activity part of it."

Almost 50 percent of surveyed second-graders had a television in their room (parents answered for this age group); 60 percent of fourth-graders and 70 percent of eighth- and 11th-graders. Almost 70 percent of fourth-graders and and close to 80 percent of eighth- and 11th-graders had a computer, iPad or other tablet, phone or gaming console in the room where they sleep.

Second-graders were the only group of students to spend more time watching television than on electronic devices. In fourth grade, it flipped, and eighth- and 11th-graders spent four to five hours per day on a computer or similar electronic device outside of school time.

In addition, they spent about two hours watching television.

Hoelscher said watching television in the room is associated with decreased sleep and grades and obesity. Hoelscher said Texas was a leader when it came to obesity prevention policies, but those gains have been slightly eroded by the watering down of some state legislation.

— The Tyler Morning Telegraph contributed to this report.