Does the famous Freshman 15 – the idea that college students gain about 15 pounds their first year in higher education – apply to high school freshman as well?
Data collected by the state Department of Health shows a contradictory trend in Luzerne County public schools: Collectively, the percentage of students in kindergarten through sixth grade who are at risk of being overweight or are overweight has gone down since the measurements began in 2006-07, but the percentage has gone up for higher grades.
The Body Mass Index, or BMI, compares weight to height. A normal BMI ranges from 18.5 to 24.9. An index from 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, while 30 or higher is obese.
The state began requiring districts to measure and report BMI for grades kindergarten through fourth in the 2005-06, adding grades five and six the next year and grades 7-12 the year after that. Results are reported online at the county level.
The measurements are reported in two grade spans (K-6 and 7-12) and there are four categories within each grade span: Students at risk of being underweight, students at a healthy weight, students at risk of being overweight and those who are overweight.
In Luzerne County, the percentage at risk of being underweight in the earlier grades has hovered near 2 percent for four years. In the upper grades, it was 1.22 percent in 2007-08, 2 percent in 2008-09 and 1.54 percent in 2009-10, the latest available data.
The percentage of students in earlier grades at a healthy weight was also fairly consistent, ranging from 60.9 percent to 62.76 percent over the years. In the higher grades, it jumped around more, with a low of 59.1 percent in 2008-09 and a high of 69.17 percent the year before.
While the percentage of students at risk of being overweight or overweight was similar in both grade groups in 2009-10 – 35.5 percent in the lower grades and 34.4 percent in higher grades – the trend has been downward in K-6 where it started at 37.2 percent in 2006-07, but upward in 7-12, where the first measurement in 2007-08 showed 29.6 percent at risk or overweight.
The state also adds up the numbers by regional districts comprised of adjacent counties. Luzerne County falls in the Northeast District, along with Carbon, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties. In 2006-07, the Northeast District had 37.9 percent of its students in the at-risk or overweight categories. Pike County was the highest at 43 percent; Luzerne County had 37.2 percent.
By 2009-10, the district's younger students had trimmed down, with 34.1 percent at risk or overweight – the leanest county was Northampton at 29 percent.
The higher grades began with 36.9 percent at risk or overweight in 2007-08, with Lehigh County the heavyweight champ at 45.8 percent. By 2009-10, the higher grades had 43 percent in the at risk/overweight categories, with Lackawanna county at the top at 67.83 percent. Of those, only 11.9 percent were at risk, the rest were officially overweight.
Statewide, the early grades had 15.6 percent at risk of being overweight and 16.8 percent were overweight. In the higher grades, it was 16.3 percent and 18.2 percent respectively.