Obesity Study Shocks Mississippi Educators

Obesity is considered the number one health problem among school children in Mississippi.

The numbers are startling: 27% of first graders in our state are either overweight or at-risk of being overweight, 43% of 7th and 8th Graders are obese. The national average is 15%.

Hundreds of school leaders, health educators, and parents are tackling this epidemic in Biloxi.

Physical activity is part of the daily routine at the Lundays Unit of the Boys and Girls Club in Biloxi.

"We have sports and fitness. We have an aerobics program, as well as different games that they play. We try to keep kids as healthy as possible, because we deal with the mind, body and soul," Unit Director Dino Thurmon said.

The organization launched the "Triple Play" health and wellness campaign in April to help children fight the fat. Group leaders realized that obesity has become the most pressing public health concern in America.

Mississippi has reason to worry.

Dr. Mary Kay Meyer is the chairwoman for "Action for Healthy Kids".

"Our children have one of the highest rates of obesity in the country. The numbers are very shocking and we look at them in the effect that we have a huge problem to solve," Meyer said.

The solution may come out of the Mississippi Alliance for School Health Conference in Biloxi. School administrators, food service employees and coaches are brainstorming and forming a strategy to combat the obesity crisis.

"It becomes more urgent for me to go back to my local school district to figure out ways to increase physical education, ways that we can do a better job of giving our children nutritious meals," MASH President Dr. Pat Cooper said.

"This generation, the children we have in school now, their parents will outlive them because of the obesity epidemic. This hasn't happened in this country in 150 years," Meyer said.

"A lot of the parents of the children who are obese don't view their children as being obese, because a lot of the parents are obese themselves. So if we're not careful, we're going to get into a situation where this is the norm, and it's not a very healthy norm," Cooper said.

That's why the group is counting on parents, ministers and community programs like the Boys and Girls Club to join the battle against the bulge.

"It's going to take everybody. It's going to take churches. It's going to take schools, because this is an epidemic that will bring the whole community down," Cooper said.

The MASH conference also focuses on other health-related issues involving schools, like bullying and violence, school environment, eating disorders, injuries and teen tobacco use. The conference ends Wednesday.

By: Trang Pham-Bui