Afterschool participation and obesity among high school students

Back in September, our data blog focused on screen time and physical activity; we demonstrated that data suggest that afterschool programs are good ways to keep kids off of their screens and physically active. These findings are also related to weight and obesity as the obesity epidemic in the United States affects not only adults but also young people. A report from the National Center for Health Statistics show that nearly 1 in 5 school age children and young people (6 to 19 years) in the United States has obesity. Afterschool programs can play an important role in reducing this rate, and we have data to back up that claim.

In 2017-18, 97% of 21st Century Community Learning Centers reported that they provided students with at least 20 minutes of physical activity for every two hours of programming provided. Likewise, 97% also reported that they provided students with regular access to healthy snacks and clean drinking water. Physical activity and proper nutrition are key components of keeping children and youth at healthy weights. Data from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) reveal that increased weekly participation in afterschool activities among Vermont youth are correlated with a decreased likelihood that those youth will be overweight or obese, as indicated by their body-mass indexes.

Data from the 18,095 high school students that provided both their height and weight and indicated their weekly hours of participation in afterschool activities on the 2017 YRBS revealed the following: among youth that did not participate in any afterschool activities, 35% were overweight or obese. Among those who participated in between one and four hours, 25% were overweight or obese; among those who participated in between five and nine hours, 20% were overweight or obese; and among those who participated in between 10 and 19 hours, 20% were overweight or obese.

A similar downward trend is seen when looking at just obesity. Similar to the national data, roughly one in five (19%) of students who did not participate in any hours of afterschool programming were obese, as indicated by having a BMI of 30 or above. As the number of hours of participation increased, the percentage of students who were obese predicacly decreased. Eleven percent of those who participated in one to four weekly hours of programming were obese; eight percent of students who participated in five to nine weekly hours of programming were obese; and finally, seven percent of high school students who participated in between 10 and 19 hours per week of afterschool programming were obese.

We are grateful to be able to report that afterschool participation is linked with a reduced risk of high school students in Vermont being overweight or obese. Since programs are doing their part to provide active programming and healthy food options, we are working together toward a more healthy Vermont!

Read past Data Digest blog posts here: