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Students’ health to be assessed

Fitness drive: Marie Beach Johnson, the Healthy Schools coordinator

Schools Island-wide are using a computer-based programme to build a better picture of their student’s health.

The Fitnessgram application has been mandated by the Department of Education for all public schools and private schools have been encouraged to provide the same information.

The youth physical fitness assessment education and reporting tool will provide data on body composition (height and weight), aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility for children in primary year five to secondary year three.

“It’s the first year that we will really obtain that information,” Healthy Schools coordinator Marie Beach Johnson said. “We’ll get the school reports for male and female per class and we’ll get the consolidated report that will give us the overall aggregate results.”

She added that it will help identify the proportion of underweight, healthy, overweight and obesity rates among adolescents in Bermuda. Ms Beach Johnson spoke to The Royal Gazette after the Department of Health urged people to take more responsibility in the fight against obesity and poor health.

According to the STEPS to a Well Bermuda Survey conducted in 2014, 75 per cent of the Island’s adult population is overweight or obese. Ms Beach Johnson said that while the statistics for overweight and obese children have shifted back and forth over the years from one in four to one in five, there are no recent figures.

However, she added that it is always possible to point out an overweight or obese child and that there is at least one per school.

But Ms Beach Johnson said hidden obesity, where body fat is higher than expected, can also be a problem because it is hard to say a child is overweight or obese by their appearance.

This is where the Fitnessgram application will provide data in a “realistic and positive manner” with a focus on providing solutions such as moving towards more physical activity.

She said it will also enable students, parents and teachers to see their baseline information and will also offer recommendations.

The programme consists of two assessments; one towards the beginning of the school year and one in May.

In between, children are encouraged to pursue whatever physical activity they enjoy, preferably with their families. But Ms Beach Johnson said the computer application cannot be used for younger students because there “is no normative data for the very young children”.

She added that they also did not want focus on body image at such a young age, and although they did not want to do so for preteens either, this is the age group where overweight and obesity was beginning to happen.

However, she said the body mass index measurements are supposed to be collected in a private setting and that the survey uses “kind and positive” language to avoid placing too much focus on body image.

The Fitnessgram application, developed by The Cooper Institute in the United States, was introduced to Bermuda by the Ministry of Education.

But it is also a component of the Healthy Schools initiative, which was set up in 2004 as part of the Health Promotion Office of the Department of Health and Well Bermuda.

Its goal is to ensure that all school-aged children have equal access to health-related information.