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Providence Residents Survey About Children & Obesity 


PROVIDENCE, RI – Between September 10 and September 22, 2015, the American Heart Association surveyed 505 people in a variety of settings across Providence through brief person-onthe-street surveys. Just over half of the respondents (259) were parents of school-aged children and 96 respondents predominantly spoke Spanish.

Candace Pierce, Director of the ANCHOR Project that led this effort, said, “On the positive side, there is very strong public support for polices to increase physical activity among school-aged children. But on the negative side, the general public is overly optimistic about the amount of exercise that children get and they wildly underestimate the health impact of being overweight or obese.”

When parents were asked where their children exercised, 86% responded that they exercised in school during Physical Education (PE) class and 50% believed their children got exercise during recess. In fact, recess takes place only at the elementary school level and children are not required to be physically active during recess. Rhode Island state law currently mandates an average of 100 minutes per week, or 20 minutes per day, split between health and physical education. Parents appear to be unaware of how little physical activity their children actually get during the school day.

“Getting exercise and being active is essential for anyone to stay healthy but it is especially critical for younger members of our community. Not only will exercise will keep you in shape and help you stay healthy throughout your life, it also makes it easier to focus, learn and do well in school,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. “I am committed to providing opportunities for our youth and for all residents to be active and stay healthy.”

The American Heart Association guidelines recommend children have 60 minutes of overall physical activity every day and, for elementary school children, 150 minutes per week of PE year-round. Very few schools, if any, meet this recommendation in the state of Rhode Island. 85% of all those surveyed believed that the state should meet those guidelines for PE in schools. In addition, 89% think that Rhode Island schools should be required to inform parents about how much physical education their children are receiving each week, as well as details about the quality of those PE classes.

“It’s a generational disconnect. Folks who grew up having PE and active recess most days assume that kids are exercising and moving their bodies during the school day as much as we did. The truth is, children are spending much of their time sitting and don’t even walk to and from school anymore. As physical activity dropped off, rates of obesity and overweight have climbed,” according to Pierce.

While schools cannot be expected to solve the problem alone, School District leadership understands the expectation and the opportunity. “Physical activity plays an important role in the healthy development of students at all ages. As these survey results highlight, school is a leading source of this activity for many children in the city,” said Christopher Maher, Interim Superintendent of the Providence Public School District. “Our District is committed to ensuring our students learn, grow and succeed in all areas of their education careers, including physical education.”

One of the most unexpected results from the survey concerned public understanding of how a person’s health is impacted by being overweight or obese. Pierce said, “Given the amount of attention paid to obesity in recent years, we expected that people would have a better sense of how being overweight could be dangerous and even deadly, but more education is obviously needed.”

When asked if they knew anyone who had ever had a health problem from being overweight or obese, remarkably, 63% of those surveyed said that they did not. The number was higher for Spanish speaking respondents (79%) as compared to English speaking respondents (59%). Due to the fact that obesity is a complex disorder and a major health risk factor linked to increased cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and early death, it was surprising learn how few people made the connection.

It is not likely that the 505 people surveyed don’t know anyone who is overweight or obese, because the rates of both are high in Rhode Island. Results from the 2012 National Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) found that adults in Providence were more likely to be overweight or obese than to be a healthy weight. In fact, nearly 60% of women in Providence were overweight (29.1%) or obese (30.3%), and nearly 65% of men in Providence were overweight (40.5%) or obese (23.8%). According to the report, 61.8% of Providence adults are overweight (34.6%) or obese (27.2%). This shows the need for improving the health of all Providence residents and this the reason why it is so important that children in Providence start early to build life-long healthy behaviors.

There was some good news buried in these survey results which showed that the vast majority (85%) people stated they and their families would use the school-based facilities (playgrounds, tracks, gymnasiums, etc.) for exercise if those were open to the public outside of school hours. 37.1% reported they would use those facilities three or more days a week.

“Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do to ensure that you live a long, healthy life! Small changes in how active someone is can help them control their weight, improve their moods, maintain strength and mobility, and reduce their risks of developing chronic conditions,” said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. “At the Department of Health we are partnering with cities, towns, and other state agencies to make sure that the environments in every community in Rhode Island encourage exercise and healthy living. No one’s zip code should ever limit their opportunities for physical activity.” Page 3

About ANCHOR Providence:

The American Heart Association was awarded a Centers for Disease Control ANCHOR grant to reduce chronic diseases and health disparities among low-income and minority populations. Given high rates of obesity and overweight, Providence, Rhode Island, was chosen as one of 15 target areas nationwide. Goals are aimed at increasing physical activity among Providence Public School District students, and increasing access to healthy foods and beverages at childcare centers, hospitals, and workplaces located in the city. About the American Heart Association: The American Heart Association’s 2020 impact goal is: By 2020, to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent.

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – the two leading causes of death in the world. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. For more information about the organization’s local work, visit

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