In April 2006, schools around New York State began gathering health information on their students. The initiative was part of a new assessment to track health trends among children.
“It has their height and weight, it has any food allergies, any medical limitations or physical activity limitations but within that they specifically want to get the BMI data,” says Dr. Stephen Cook, an obesity expert at Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong. Cook was part of a team of Rochester doctors who helped State legislators draft the new “Healthy Kids” program, aimed at keeping children healthy via preventive efforts such as exercise and improved eating habits. Rochester is home to the Upstate New York branch of the Academy of Pediatrics which advises on several childhood obesity programs across New York.
In his State of the State Address on Wednesday, Governor Spitzer touted the program, specifically targeting childhood obesity and the diseases which stem from it such as heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes.
“We need to encourage prevention in primary care,” says Spitzer.
Rochester is taking a leading role in curbing the epidemic by tracking the levels of childhood obesity in all age groups. Not only are Rochester doctors helping doctors around the state track levels of childhood obesity, they’re doing it on a local level.
“So at kindergarten, second, fourth, seventh and tenth grades all kids are required to have a health assessment form,” says Cook, “we're doing research to see what our region looks like specifically.”
The obesity information for those assessments is being conducted at pediatric offices and, what Rochester doctors say they’re finding more often than not, is that parents and children both need education about weight reduction.
“It's meant to trigger a kind of awareness at the level of a provider and a parent,” says Cook.
The Rochester data is still being collected, however, in the next year the State will randomly select schools to use as points of reference. The data will help the State Department of Health determine whether prevention efforts such as less junk food in schools and more physical activity programs are working.
“You don't know how big the problem is until you really measure it and you don't know if you've made any improvement unless you see a change in measure,” says Cook.