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Healthy Futures Start in the Schools

July 30, 2015

Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions’ Department of Nutrition Sciences is in the midst of a three-year-long study funded by the Independence Blue Cross Foundation to assess the effect of a school-based environmental intervention on children’s body mass index (BMI), physical activity and dietary intake. Part of the Independence Blue Cross Healthy Futures Initiative, which is based on eating right, being fit and being healthy, the study will begin its third year with the 2015 to 2016 school year.

 “The main objective of this research is to reduce BMI in children who are overweight or obese, or maintain a healthy BMI in children who are already within the healthy range,” said Stella Volpe, PhD, Principal Investigator of the study, and chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences. “In this intervention, my research team and I are working with community partners to improve nutrition and increase physical activity.” Following children in five counties in the Greater Philadelphia region from fourth to sixth grades, measurements are taken at the beginning and end of each school year to determine whether students’ BMIs have changed.

 Schools are deemed Core schools, Level 1 schools or Control schools based on the level of intervention introduced, with Core schools getting the most change in terms of the nutrition and exercise intervention. “We are serving healthier foods in the cafeteria and increasing physical activity. We have a number of partners, who work together to introduce healthy initiatives, including the Vetri Foundation for Children, Greener Partners, Fit Essentials and the Philadelphia Union. My research team, Abby Duffine Gilman (Project Manager), MS, and Emily Werner and Brianna Higgins (Graduate Assistants) and I all work together to make the study as robust as possible,” said Volpe.

 According to baseline data collected for this study, which examined the BMIs of 598 students from January through May of the 2012 to 2014 school year, about 18.3% of the students had BMI values that determined they were overweight, and about 18.2% had BMI values that determined they were obese. Obesity in childhood is defined as having a BMI at or greater than the 95th percentile based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) growth charts. Based on the information collected, the average BMI for girls and boys in Philadelphia was higher than the United States’ standards (17% of children, 2 to 19 years of age, are obese). 

 The study aims to identify what could potentially be long-term solutions in the school systems to help reduce and prevent instances of obesity. “Our community partners are extremely invested in the health of children in this area. My research team and I are appreciative of everyone and their efforts, as we all work toward making children healthier.”