Body Weight Status, Dietary Habits, and Physical Activity Levels of Middle School-aged Children in Rural Mississippi


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Abstract

Objectives:Obesity and cardiovascular diseases are more prevalent in the Southeast as compared with other geographic regions of the United States. However, few investigations have addressed health disparities among children in rural Southeastern areas. The purpose of this investigation was to determine the risk of overweight and obesity in middle school-aged children residing in a racially diverse rural community, and to characterize their dietary and physical activity habits.Methods:Two hundred and five middle school children from Scott County, Mississippi were enrolled in this investigation. Measurements included height, weight, body mass index, dietary intake using a 24-hour recall, and physical activity level using pedometers.Results:Of the 205 children studied, 54% were “overweight” or “at risk for overweight” according to a body mass index-for-age sex-specific percentile. Intake of saturated fat and sodium exceeded recommended levels, whereas intake of calcium, fruits, and vegetables was inadequate. One third of the sample consumed 12 fluid ounces or more of soda on the day of the recall. Physical activity level was below that previously reported for children in this age range, and knowledge of the importance of diet and physical activity in the prevention of cardiovascular disease was poor, particularly among African-American children.Conclusions:The children in our sample are at increased risk for overweight and obesity. Factors that may be targeted for intervention include a reduction in dietary intake of fat, saturated fat, sodium, and soft drinks, and an increased intake of fruits and vegetables. Physical activity should be encouraged. Many of these factors could be improved through changes within the school environment.

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