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College of Education
phone: (208) 885-6772
toll free: (888) 884-3246
fax: (208) 885-6761
875 Perimeter Drive MS3080
Moscow, ID 83844-3080 

Coeur d'Alene
Phone (208) 667-2588
Toll free (888) 208-2268
Fax (208) 664-1272
1031 N. Academic Way, Suite 242
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814

Phone (208) 334-2999
Toll free (866) 264-7384
Fax (208) 364-4035
322 E. Front Street
Boise, ID 83702

Obesity in Children: A Major Concern for Idaho

For the past year, Health, Physical Education, and Exercise Science faculty in the College of Education have been gathering data for an important State Department of Education funded study on Body Mass Indexes and physical education requirements in Idaho schools. Like most children in U.S. schools, Idaho school children have unacceptable levels of BMI, placing them at increased risks for obesity and disease. The State is searching for solutions.

Obesity in children is a major concern of the Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (HPERD), which has talked with the State Department of Education about the need to understand this issue in Idaho. Last year the state received a $375,000 grant from the Center for Disease Control to implement Coordinated School Health programs in Idaho. As part of this work, the state asked the University of Idaho to take the lead on a BMI assessment of students across Idaho in grades 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 and on a survey about physical education curriculum in the schools.

The University collaborated with the Idaho Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (IAHPERD), Boise State University, Lewis and Clark State College, and Idaho State University to complete the research.

“It was encouraging to have so many partners willing to come together to tackle the obesity problem,” said Kathy Browder, Chair of HPERD and research team member. “We believe that real solutions can be found when this kind of true collaborative spirit exists.”

On January 25, 2010 the State Department of Education announced the results of the study during a press conference in Boise. First Lady Lori Otter and Superintendent Tom Luna spoke at the press conference about the need to increase our efforts to improve children’s health and physical activity levels.

This is the first comprehensive data collection in Idaho schools on BMI and physical education curriculum across all grade levels. The data set will allow the state to identify real needs in Idaho and develop initial interventions at the school level to decrease the risk for obesity in our children and reduce future health care costs as our children become healthy adults.

The University of Idaho research team included Kathy Browder, Grace Goc Karp, Helen Brown, David Paul and Philip Scruggs. Some of the study results were surprising, like the variability in BMI across different communities. While on average the BMI was 30.5 percent across the state, some communities were as high as 50 percent and some as low as 10 percent.

“At this time, we don’t know why there was such a large difference across communities,” said Paul, “but that only shows the need for more research.” Scruggs expressed surprised that there was very little formal assessment of fitness in school children. Idaho requirements for physical education fall below National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) physical education recommendations of 150 minutes per week for elementary students and 225 minutes for middle and high school students.

The University of Idaho’s final report included suggestions for improving Idaho children’s health. The state has taken real initiative on addressing concerns, such as implementing new nutrition standards in school meals and revising Idaho’s Health Education Standards to align with the National Health Education Standards and best practice in Health Education.

"The results of the study confirm the need take a comprehensive look at how we prepare teachers and administrators for our schools and how we need to better educate our legislature and other government agencies about the need to emphasize comprehensive health and wellness in the schools, including appropriate physical activity for all grade levels," said Browder.

To find out more about the University of Idaho’s report, contact Kathy Browder, or call 208-885-7921.