Forty-one percent of students at Franklin Elementary School are considered overweight, and half of those students are considered obese, said Diego Figueroa, a UCSB premed student and co-coordinator of the Eastside Diabetes Initiative (EDI). Figueroa measured the body mass index of all students at Franklin Elementary this past spring as part of his research for the initiative. Although the numbers are astounding, Figueroa said, the rates at Franklin are only slightly above state and national averages. According to data from 2015, 40 percent of 5th graders across California are overweight or obese.
Through the EDI, Figueroa plans to reduce those numbers and help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes or kidney disease among students. The initiative was started after Figueroa learned about health disparities at a UCLA premed summer program. While black and Latino children have historically higher rates of childhood obesity, a recent study by the University of Michigan Health System found family income to be a much more reliable factor in determining obesity trends. Researchers cited limited access to safe play spaces and supermarkets as a main contributor to childhood obesity. Low-income children are more likely to eat fast food and less likely to be enrolled in a recreational program.
The EDI will bring health-care professionals to promote smart eating among students and families, Figueroa said. The initiative will also hold classes and exercise workshops throughout the school year. “We want to make healthy eating and exercise the new norm,” said Figueroa. “We want it to be exciting.” The EDI was recently awarded a $9,000 grant from The Fund for Santa Barbara for its first year, set to begin with the school year in the fall.