June 23, 2005 – Childhood obesity is rapidly increasing worldwide, and the Virgin Islands is no exception. "The evidence is there from what we know anecdotally and from spot surveys," said Edward C. Jones, a nutritionist with V.I. Women, Infants and Children. "There's no survey done recently that suggests anything other than we have overweight kids."
Jones is earning his doctorate degree on the subject at Cornell University and is independently documenting the obesity problem at St. Thomas high schools. Preliminary results from his study suggest that adolescent obesity in Virgin Islands schools is at an epidemic proportion. Early findings also show V.I. levels of overweight and obese adolescents may exceed levels in many parts of the U.S. mainland, based on standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jones found a high prevalence of obesity or being overweight among teenage females. Among the females at one high school, the average body mass index was 25.61, borderline overweight for an adult.
Even though his numbers seem to point to a trend toward obesity, Jones said the full extent of the problem is still unknown because there hasn't been a comprehensive survey in the Virgin Islands.
"We lack policy and standardization of practice and training," says Jones. "We don't have to wait to get the data to start helping the kids. We know enough to do something, but we still need the data."
The first step toward getting a more complete health picture of children in the Virgin Islands was taken this week, when the Children's Education, Health and Safety Fund at the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands donated 10 Health-O-Meter scales to public middle and high schools.
The fund was established in 2003 as a permanent fund at the Community Foundation by the Prosser ICC Foundation.
The fund donated scales to Addelita Cancryn Jr. High School, Bertha C. Boschulte Middle High School, Charlotte Amalie High School, Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, Julius E. Sprauve School, Elena Christian Jr. High School, Arthur A. Richards School, John H. Woodson Jr. High School, St. Croix Educational Complex High School and Central High School.
Jones would like to see the scales used to form a standardized database for the Virgin Islands, which would then lead to interventions such as policy and program development.
"The question is, what will it take to develop the support for there to be true fundamental change," says Jones. "I think the CFVI has done is a really good thing, and I'm hoping it's just opening the door. I'm hoping change will happen through all the noise we're making."
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