In a project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Active Living Research Program, we used the 2007-2008 NYC FITNESSGRAM data to study how school and home neighborhood characteristics influence childhood obesity and fitness. In the 2007-2008 school year obesity was 20.3% of the children were experiencing obesity and 17.6% were experiencing overweight [1].

The NYC FITNESSGRAM program is part of the NYC Department of Education’s physical education curriculum and collects data annually on height, weight and fitness for NYC public school students. Originally developed by the Cooper Institute of Aerobic Research, Fitnessgram supports students in learning about, and measuring, components of health-related fitness and body size. After a two-year pilot testing and training phase, the NYC Fitnessgram program was first fully implemented in the 2007-2008 school year. Using a standardized protocol, height and weight measurements were made by physical education teachers who all received training through a NYCDOE sponsored workshop and via additional reference material posted online.  In the 2007-2008 school year ~660,000 children took part in FITNESSGRAM.

We linked the FITNESSGRAM data to the student’s residential Census tract and to the school they attended.  We investigated whether childhood obesity and fitness were associated with neighborhood food environments, access to parks and playgrounds, neighborhood walkability and neighborhood safety.  The image below depicts a ‘spotlight’ buffer which is the neighborhood area that encompasses a census tract, the area immediately around the school and the area in between.  All possible spotlight buffers for public schools and tracts within 1.5 Km of each other have been calculated in New York City.

Our first paper from this project describes the food environments around public schools in New York City [2]. New York City’s public school students have high levels of access to unhealthy food near their schools: 92.9% of students had a bodega within 400 m, and pizzerias (70.6%); convenience stores (48.9%); national chain restaurants (43.2%); and local fast-food restaurants (33.9%) were also prevalent within 400 m. Racial/ethnic minority and low-income students were more likely to attend schools with unhealthy food outlets nearby.

Our second paper from this project looked at individual-level and school-level socio-demographic predictors of obesity and overweight in NYC Public School Children [1].  The odds of obesity were higher for African American and Hispanic children as compared to White children, for children receiving reduced-price or free school lunches as compared with those paying full price, and for US-born students as compared with foreign-born students. After adjustment for individual-level factors, obesity was associated with the percentage of students attending the school who were US-born and the percentage of students who received free or reduced-price lunches. Thus, obesity risk is associated with the socio-demographic characteristics of the individual children and of the overall student population of the school the child attends.

All of our work from this project can be seen here.

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