Public Supports Action to Protect Youth From Weight-Based Bullying

Parental support for enactment of laws and policies to protect youth from weight-based bullying is “present, consistent, and strong,” according to a new study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. All 50 states currently have anti-bullying laws, but only three states – New York, Maine and New Hampshire - include body weight as a characteristic that places youth at risk of being bullied.cover

Many school districts have anti-bullying policies, yet body weight is often overlooked, stating that “evidence from students, parents and teachers indicates that weight-based bullying is one of the most prevalent forms of peer harassment towards youth in the school setting.”

The study found that support for including weight-based bullying in anti-bullying laws has grown during the past two years, stressing that “the omission of body weight in existing policies has important implications for youth who face weight-based bullying.”

photo“Parental voices can be influential in mobilizing advocacy efforts, and enacting policy change affecting children’s health,” said Rebecca Puhl, a study author, professor in UConn’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and deputy director of the Rudd Center.

The study findings, published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, can inform policy discussions about remedies for weight-based bullying among youth as increasing national attention is being paid to this issue.  The study indicated that “parental support is an influential catalyst motivating political will for policy decisions affecting youth, but has received limited research attention.”

Specific findings of the study include:

  • Parental support has been consistently high (at least 81 percent) over the past two years for policies to address weight-based bullying among youth at the school, state, and federal levels.
  • Support appears to have increased over the past two years for measures to better protect youth from weight-based bullying through improvements to state anti-bullying laws (87.9 percent – up from 84.7 percent) and through enactment of federal legislation (86 percent – up from 81 percent).UCONN_Rudd_logo
  • While previous research has shown that mothers express more support than fathers for similar types of policies, this new study found no gender difference, suggesting that fathers’ support for these measures may be increasing.

“As a next step, it will be important to communicate with policy makers and school officials to identify interest and feasibility of viable policy initiatives,” said Puhl, “and to examine potential avenues for enacting change through law.” Puhl told CT by the Numbers that Connecticut’s law includes “physical appearance” but not body weight. There is, therefore, room to strengthen the state law, she pointed out, because physical appearance is a broad category that can include everything from clothing style to hair color, and body weight could easily slip through the cracks if it is not specifically enumerated.

The study involved online questionnaires of diverse national samples of parents in 2014 and 2015, totaling 1,804 parents over the two years. The research was funded by a donation from Rudd Foundation and a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The study co-authors include Young Suh and Xun Li of the UConn Rudd Center. The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity is a non-profit research and public policy organization devoted to promoting solutions to childhood obesity, poor diet, and weight bias through research and policy.

Adult Obesity Rate Reduced in Connecticut; Climbs in Neighboring States

Obesity, a common and costly health issue that increases risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, affects more than one-third of adults and 17 percent of youth in the United States. A state-by-state review indicates that the adult obesity rate in Connecticut has dropped slightly in 2013 compared with 2012, and remains at about one-quarter of the population, mid-range among the states.  Nationwide, improvement remains elusive. By the numbers, 78 million adu2013-state-obesity-prevalence-maplts and 12 million children are obese—figures many regard as an epidemic. Adults are considered obese when they are about 35 pounds overweight.

In Connecticut, the segment of the adult population considered to be obese dropped from 25.6 percent in 2012 to 25.0 percent in 2013.  It was the only state among those bordering Connecticut to see an improvement in the obesity rate.

In neighboring New York, the rate climbed from 23.6 percent in 2012 to 25.4 percent in 2013. In Massachusetts, the obesity rate was 23.6 in 2013, up from 22.9 in 2012.  In Rhode Island, the obesity rate increased from 25.7 percent of the adult population to 27.3 percent.

Data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, of the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was featured by the National Conference of State Legislatures.ObeseScale

In 2013, obesity rates among American adults remained high, and in numerous instances, was rising:

  • No state has an obesity rate below 21 percent.
  • In two states – Mississippi and West Virginia - obesity rates now exceed 35 percent for the first time, the highest in the nation.
  • 20 states have obesity rates at or above 30 percent. (In 2012, 13 states had levels that exceeded 30 percent.)

Overweight and obese individuals are at increased risk for many diseases and health chronic conditions, including hypertension (high blood pressure), osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint), dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides), type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, and some cancers (pancreas, kidney, prostate, endometrial, breast, and colon).

The lowest obesity rates in the nation are in Colorado, at 21.3 percent and Hawaii at 21.8 percent.  In both states, the rate declined between 2012 and 2013.

Nation's Mayors Award Hartford, Waterbury for Work Promoting Youth Jobs, Exercise

The mayors of two of Connecticut’s major cities – and their communities – had moments in the spotlight at the just-concluded annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM)  in Washington, D.C.

Hartford Mayor Pedro E. Segarra won first place for medium/small cities in the organization’s 1st Annual National SummerYouth Jobs Challenge. The award honors the outstanding achievements in innovative partnerships between cities and local business and non-profit communities to help provide youth with meaningful summer job experiences.

Mayor Neil M. O’Leary accepted a first place award for Waterbury’s Kid’s Marathon Program.  The organization gave six awards to mayors of cities with outstanding programs that encourage healthy weight through balanced diet choices and regular physical activity.  As the top selection, Waterbury receives a $120,000 grant that will support the 2014 Kid’s Marathon Program, a partnership between the YMCA, City of Waterbury, Department of Education, Boys and Girls Club, Police Activity League (PAL) and Connecticut Association of Schools, aimed at introducing the sport of running to youth ages 7-12, over a 12-week period and at no charge to the participants.mayors conf

Approximately 250 mayors, USCM business council members, USCM Workforce Development Council members and other workforce development professionals from major cities across the country attended the annual meeting.  The award was presented to Hartford at Thursday morning’s plenary session, which included remarks by Segarra, Louisville Mayor Gwaterburyreg Fischer, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Since taking office in 2010, Segarra has invested regularly in youth employment programming, leverageing state and foundation funds to further expand work opportunities for young people. In 2013, the Mayor secured $1.25 million that put nearly half of the 2,056 youth in the region to work, officials said.  Additionally, in conjunction with four other regional mayors, he spearheaded an “unsubsidized” youth employment campaign, aligned with the Obama administration’s Youth Jobs + effort, which resulted in an additional 208 employer-paid positions.

Segarra was joined at the mayor’s conference by  Capital Workforce Partners President and CEO, Tom Phillips who was the 2012 President of the U. S. Conference of Mayor’s Workforce Development Council, and whose organization is instrumental in finding worksites and providing career competencies for over 2,000 youth in the North Central Connecticut region each summer.

Among the ten Connecticut Mayors registered to attend the conference in addition to Segarra and O’Leary were Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, Stratford Mayor John Harkins, West Haven Mayor Edward O’Brien, Trumbull Mayor Tim Herbst, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc, Fairfield Mayor Michael Tetreau, and Stamford Mayor David Martin.  The U.S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more.  There are 1,399 such cities in the country today, and each city is represented in the Conference by its chief elected official.

segarraThe Kid’s Marathon Program is designed to target city youth lacking in physical activity and good nutrition habits.  Students run 1-2 miles, two or three times per week, completing a cumulative 26.2 mile marathon over the course of the program.  They also receive positive and practical guidance on nutrition that helps foster long-term healthy eating behaviors.  In 2013, the program’s first year, 438 students participated, with the culminating 1-mile run occurring at Crosby High School before a crowd of family, friends and supporters.

USCM also recognized Eugene Morton, a Hartford resident who participated in employment opportunities created through Segarra’s youth initiatives. A 2007 graduate of Hartford’s Sports and Medical Sciences Academy, Morton is a Marketing major at Central Connecticut State University with a 4.0 average. In 2013, he took advantage of a summer employment opportunity at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center and was one of 13 college students who participated in the summer youth employment program offered at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in partnership with the Blue Hills Civic Association.

Mayor O’Leary and Waterbury were recognized with the first place award for their collaborative efforts on launching the Kid’s Marathon Program with the Rod Dixon Kid’s Marathon Foundation. The grant awards were divided into small, medium and large city categories, with first place and second place awards given in each category.  Waterbury placed first in the “medium city” category; the second place finisher was Little Rock, AR. The grant program is the result of a partnership between USCM and the American Beverag06-09-12-kids_05-300x229e Association (ABA), to support and/or enhance mayors’ ongoing childhood obesity prevention programs in their cities.    A total of $445,000 in grants was awarded to support both new and existing programs.  Denver, CO and Dallas, TX (large cities) and York, PA and Monrovia, CA (small cities) were the other recipients.

Last fall, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Partner America awarded Hartford Mayor Pedro E. Segarra their small business advocate of the year award.  The USCM presented Segarra with the award during the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council Expo, at the Connecticut Convention Center.  The organization credited Segarra for launching the iConnect storefront revitalization project, quickening the pace of city permit approvals, investing $500,000 in façade improvements and awarding over $100,000 to 16 local artists and small businesses.  At the time, the mayor's office said the city has gained 134 small business and 200 jobs since 2010.


Health of Connecticut Drops Slightly as Disparities and Challenges Are Noticed

Connecticut is now the nation’s sixth healthiest state, dropping from number four in the previous year, according to state-by-state data compiled by the United Health Foundation in collaboration with the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention.  Among the findings about Connecticut highlighted in the report, America’s Health Rankings, which was compiled in 2012:

  • While Connecticut has one of the lowest smoking rates in the U.S., there are 475,000 adults who still smoke.
  • In the past 5 years, the high school graduation rate declined from 80.7 percent to 75.4 percent of incoming ninth graders who graduate in four years.
  • In the past 10 years, the percentage of children in poverty increased from 8.9 percent to 14.3 percent of persons under the age of 18.
  • In the past 5 years, public health funding increased from $57 to $71 per person.
  • In the past 5 years, the rate of preventable hospitalizations decreased from 67.3 to 60.4 discharges per 1,000 Medicare enrollees.
  • In the past year, the infant mortality rate decreased from 6.3 to 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births.Connecticut State Health Rankings Inforgraphic

The state’s strengths, according to the report, include a low prevalence of smoking, low incidence of infectious disease, low rate of uninsured population and high immunization coverage.  Challenges facing Connecticut are the state’s moderate high school graduation rate and moderate levels of air pollution, the report noted.

Among the key health disparities highlighted from the Connecticut data, obesity is more prevalent among non-Hispanic blacks at 41.4 percent than Hispanics at 28.6 percent and non-Hispanic whites at 21.0 percent; and sedentary lifestyle is more prevalent among Hispanics at 27.5 percent than non-Hispanic whites at 19.9 percent.

Overall, Connecticut has consistently ranked in the top 10 among the states since 1994. Vermont topped the list for the fourth consecutive year in 2012.  New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Hawaii were deemed healthier than Connecticut.  An interactive web-based 3D chart provides comparisons among the states.

The reports’ authors state that the “ultimate purpose of America’s Health Rankings® is to stimulate action by individuals, elected officials, medical professionals, public health professionals, employers, educators, and communities to improve the health of the population of the United States.”