Indy-based group using two local schools for pilot program on height-weight study

Matthew Ruiz (left), an exercise science instructor at Huntington University, measures the height of Andrews Elementary School student Jagger Underwood while HU student Mariah Town records the numbers.
Matthew Ruiz (left), an exercise science instructor at Huntington University, measures the height of Andrews Elementary School student Jagger Underwood while HU student Mariah Town records the numbers.

Originally published May 17, 2010

Not too long ago, report cards served as a record of a child's physical development as well as academic growth.
Height and weight were meticulously recorded along with grades and attendance.

Sometime over the past few decades, though, report cards slimmed down, dropping the height and weight boxes.
At the same time, the amount of time set aside for physical activity in schools was shrinking, says Becky Kennedy, who runs the coordinated school health programs for Covering Kids & Families of Indiana, an Indianapolis-based organization. The Body Mass Index pilot study is funded by the Indiana Department of Health's Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Kennedy's organization wants to be able to track the rate of obesity among Indiana students, and she visited two Huntington County schools on Monday, May 10, during a one-year pilot study to see how it could be done.

"We're working with schools to observe how they collect height and weight measurements to determine BMI," Kennedy explains. BMI is short for "body mass index," a measurement used to identify healthy weights. "At this level, we're not making issues of a student's weight unless we find that a child's BMI is very much above what it should be."

However, she adds, the Indiana Department of Health wants to encourage more schools to keep track of students' height and weight and inform parents of any problems. It would be up to each individual school corporation, she says, to decide just how to gather and disseminate that information.

Kennedy says she's worked with schools in Lafayette and Evansville and chose to conduct her study at Andrews and Northwest elementary schools in Huntington County after hearing Erin Holloway, the physical education teacher for those two schools, present a program on her KidFit exercise program at Indiana Wesleyan University. Matthew Ruiz, who teaches exercise science at Huntington University, was the co-presenter with Holloway at IU.

Ruiz and a half-dozen of his students brought their scales first to Andrews, and then to Northwest, to record each student's height, weight, gender and birth date.

Kennedy was treading on familiar soil during the trip to Andrews - she grew up in the area and attended Andrews School before beginning a 30-year career in school health. Kennedy worked with the department of education in both Ohio and Indiana and taught at Ohio State University before working with the Coordinated School Health Programs.

"When I was here, every year on my report card was my height and weight so my parents were aware of what was going on," Kennedy says.

Kennedy is collecting information from a total of eight to 10 school corporations in Indiana, weighing and measuring students in third, fifth and seventh grades. All of the information gathered will be combined, with no individual student, school or corporation identified, to get a picture of what's going on in Indiana, Kennedy says.

Indiana has a high number of overweight children, Kennedy says, and those children have a lower life expectancy than their parents. Keeping track of their height and weight, she says, can head off problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

"It's not costly," she says. "It can be done very easily, and it can be done with privacy."

Schools across the state will be encouraged by the Indiana Department of Health to collect those measurements so they can inform parents about potential problems with a child's weight, she says.

The statistics may also be used in an attempt to convince state legislators and school administrators of the need to set aside more time for physical education and other physical activities, she adds.

Complete caption: Matthew Ruiz (left), an exercise science instructor at Huntington University, measures the height of Andrews Elementary School student Jagger Underwood while HU student Mariah Town records the numbers. They were assisting in a study to record the heights and weights of students across Indiana to get a composite picture of the state.