SPECIAL REPORT: Obesity Numbers For WNY School Districts

3:16 PM, Jul 18, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- More than a third of WNY students are overweight or obese, according to new figures released by the state in a report that breaks down the numbers by school district.

Nearly 80,000 students in public schools in the WNY eight-county area are obese or overweight, according to the data.

WEB EXTRA: Find data from your child's school district

The highest rate was in the Scio Central School District, where 65.1% of middle and high school students were overweight or obese according to the nationally-recognized Body Mass Index (BMI) testing.

Many local school districts were above the 50% line for overweight or obese students.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said the shocking numbers should be a wake-up call to local leaders, parents, and school officials.

"We have a crisis situation on our hands," Dr. Burstein said.

These new numbers come at a time that many local districts are trimming back on P.E. teachers and classes.

Carly Braxton is with the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, a national group that advocates for more physical education in schools. She says school leaders must recognize the important of P.E.

"We understand that they have to prioritize, but there is so much research out there, so much data that shows that physical activity and physical education actually will raise test scores," Braxton said.

Her group and the American Heart Association recommend states mandate 150 minutes a week of physical education for elementary students and 225 minutes a week for middle and high school students.

New York falls short of that, requiring 120 minutes a week.

Braxton praised New York for requiring daily P.E. for students in Kindergarten through third grade, but said loopholes allow many districts to skirt the rules.

For instance, 2 On Your Side learned of several local elementary schools that are substituting recess for physical education.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the State Education Department said, "We expect all schools to meet the state's phys ed requirements. If we are made aware of a school that may not be meeting those requirements, we work with the school to bring them into compliance."

Beyond exercise, Dr. Burstein said it's about diet. She recommended parents cut out sugary beverages from their children's diets.

Unfortunately, despite the increased public awareness, she had a dire prediction.

"Unfortunately, I'm worried that they may get a little bit worse before they get better."

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