School Programs and Characteristics and Their Influence on Student BMI

Findings from Healthy Passages

Published in: PLoS ONE, v. 9 (1): e83254, 2014, 7 p

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2014

by Tracy K. Richmond, Marc N. Elliott, Luisa Franzini, Ichiro Kawachi, Margaret O. Caughy, M. Janice Gilliland, Courtney Walls, Frank Franklin, Richard Lowry, Stephen W. Banspach, Mark A. Schuster

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BACKGROUND: Little is known about the contribution of school contextual factors to individual student body mass index (BMI). We set out to determine if school characteristics/resources: (1) are associated with student BMI; (2) explain racial/ethnic disparities in student BMI; and (3) explain school-level differences in student BMI. METHODS: Using gender-stratified multi-level modeling strategies we examined the association of school characteristics/resources and individual BMI in 4,387 5th graders in the Healthy Passages Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Additionally, we examined the association of race/ethnicity and individual BMI as well as the between-school variance in BMI before and after adding individual and school characteristics to test for attenuation. RESULTS: The school-level median household income, but not physical activity or nutrition resources, was inversely associated with female BMI (β = −0.12, CI: −0.21,−0.02). Neither school demographics nor physical activity/nutrition resources were predictive of individual BMI in males. In Black females, school characteristics attenuated the association of race/ethnicity and BMI. Individual student characteristics—not school characteristics/resources-reduced the between-school variation in BMI in males by nearly one-third and eliminated it in females. CONCLUSIONS: In this cohort of 5th graders, school SES was inversely associated with female BMI while school characteristics and resources largely explained Black/White disparities in female weight status. Between-school differences in average student weight status were largely explained by the composition of the student body not by school characteristics or programming.

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