Rochester students are more likely to be overweight or obese than their peers in surrounding school districts, which underscores the difficulty of getting healthy and nutritious food to children living in extreme poverty.
A new set of data from the state Department of Health suggests that 48 percent of City School District students are either overweight or obese. That compares to just 22 percent in Pittsford, the lowest rate among Monroe County school districts.
The data comes from reports that school districts are now required to file with the state for certain grade levels at which students are supposed to have a physical evaluation. Health officials caution that the percentage of students for whom reports were submitted is less than ideal, and that the reporting rate varied somewhat drastically between school districts, which can skew results.
Still, area health and education officials say the data underscores an issue they have been battling for years in a city with one of the highest child poverty rates in the country. Low-income families do not always have ready access to fresh and healthful food, and students are often more likely to get their afterschool snack from a corner store than a farmers’ market.
About 88 percent of students in Rochester city schools qualify for free or reduced price lunch — the school system’s measure of poverty. That compares with just 4 percent in Pittsford.
“We know that families in the city are struggling with many barriers, and significant barriers,” said Stephen Cook, a pediatrician with Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “We need to look at those environmental and social barriers and think about solutions differently.”
Rochester’s rate is the highest among New York’s largest urban school districts, based on the state Health Department data, with Buffalo posting a rate of 34 percent and Syracuse at 32 percent. The reporting rate for the three districts, however, varied dramatically.
Childhood obesity has become a national issue in recent years, with nutrition experts and parents citing issues such as busy lifestyles, super-sized fast food and convenience food laden with calories as part of the problem. Those factors coupled with less active children create a recipe for weight problems.