WATERLOO, Iowa --- More students are overweight in Waterloo than in Cedar Falls, according to data compiled by the Black Hawk County Health Department.
About 32 percent of Cedar Falls students had a body mass index that ranked overweight or obese, compared to 45 percent in Waterloo. In Cedar Falls, 34 percent of male students were obese and 30 percent of female students. In Waterloo, both genders came in at 45 percent.
"That's the eye popper right there in terms of the disparity between the two communities," said Bruce Meisinger, director of public health for the county.
The data presented is based on a sampling of about 6,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade during the 2010-2011 school year.
According to a 2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 31.7 percent of children and adolescents are overweight or obese in the United States. That compares reasonably to the Cedar Falls percentage, Meisinger noted. State statistics were not available, he said.
During the past 10 years, the number of overweight and obese students in Waterloo has increased from 35 percent in 2001-2002. The Highland Elementary School zone, formerly McKinstry Elementary School, has the highest concentration of students --- 47 to 56 percent --- who are overweight or obese.
Meisinger said the breakdown by school site will allow officials to take into account how factors like economic status of the area contributes to the trend.
School nurses are case managing increasing numbers of chronic diseases tied to obesity, including diabetes, asthma and hypertension. Children who are overweight or obese are at risk for cardiovascular disease and more likely to develop bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and several types of cancer. They also are at a higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes as adults, he said.
Shannon Ingamells, school nurse program manager, said nurses already have seen more children with Type 2 diabetes.
"A lot of that is related to obesity, really, and we're seeing that at younger and younger ages, too, so that's definitely concerning," she said.
BMI categorizes individuals and populations as overweight based on height and weight. People at or above the 85th percentile are considered overweight, while those at or above the 95th percentile are obese. While the accuracy of BMI as a measure for individual health status is increasingly debated, it remains the recommended indicator for populations used by public health officials, according to Meisinger.
This is the first time county health officials have been able to aggregate data from Waterloo schools with a full year of that from Cedar Falls. Starting in 2010, the health department began overseeing the school nursing program for about 5,000 students in the Cedar Falls school district. Health officials have been providing similar services in Waterloo since 1996 for approximately 10,000 students. Height and weight measurements are collected during annual health screenings at area schools.
The county health department has provided grant-funded student health and wellness interventions to address health issues identified within the student population.