Some Mesa County teens starve themselves to be thin

More School District 51 high school students tried starving themselves as a weight loss method while fewer students view themselves as overweight, according to the latest results of a youth risk behavior survey.

The results, tabulated from the latest survey administered in January 2007, classified a “significant increase” in self-starvation across both genders and white and Hispanic students between 2007 and the previous results from 2005. The survey was a collaborative effort between the school district and the Mesa County Health Department taken by a representative sample of 913 students from the six high schools in the Grand Valley.

“Mesa County is very much like the rest of the state in that we need to improve on nutrition,” said Sarah Elliott, LiveWell coordinator with the health department and overseer of the survey. “It’s a very complex issue, though. You have to address every issue: at-home meals; school lunch; P.E. classes; and so on.”

The female and Hispanic subgroups had the largest percentage of students who engaged in starvation.

Both subgroups rose to about 15 percent in 2007, according to the survey.

Overall, the percentage of students starving themselves rose from about 7 percent in 2005 to just above 10 percent in 2007, or one in 10 students.

The percentage of students who describe themselves as overweight fell about 6 percentage points to 25 percent in 2007, according to the survey, but that figure is more than three times the percent of students who are actually overweight.

Elliott said body image is an age-old problem among high school students who are striving to achieve the looks of actors and models they see through media exposure.

“The focus is too much on weight,” Elliott said. “It needs to be on healthy behaviors and making those choices. Otherwise, you get kids struggling to get down to a weight that is possibly unhealthy for their body type.”

The health department has been working with District 51’s Nutrition Services to get a grant to staff an in-house dietician, Elliott said. That person could help craft healthy school menus, she said.

Meanwhile, incentives are being considered for healthy choices and expanding the work of the district’s wellness department.

The survey has been administered every other year since 2003, Elliott said. It was funded by a five-year, $2.26 million federal grant. Mesa County was one of four counties in Colorado to receive it.

The 2005 youth risk behavior survey results showed a high percentage of student smokers who wanted to quit smoking, Elliott said.

The district and the health department piloted a program at Central High School to assist students who wanted to quit, and the 2007 results showed a reduction in the number of student smokers, she said.

Elliott said the 2007 results were finalized over the summer, and she will present them around the community, including one to the school board.

Funding for the survey has ended, but Elliott said she would like to see the district continue the survey to monitor trends in behavior with the help of the health department where possible.

“This is one of the first times the two have worked together so closely and with so much success,” Elliott said.


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