NH DHHS - Third Grade Oral Health/Body Mass Index Report Released

Healthy Smiles–Healthy Growth Survey

Concord, NH - The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announces the release of the Healthy Smiles–Healthy Growth Survey.

The survey was funded by a collaborative effort with the HNHfoundation and Northeast Delta Dental. The survey took place in 81 public schools in New Hampshire during the 2008-2009 school year. One dentist and six dental hygienists visually screened the teeth of third grade students and measured their heights and weights. Oral health surveys were done twice before in New Hampshire, but heights and weights were not measured in those surveys.

Thanks to the efforts of participating schools and families, this survey resulted in the collection of New Hampshire’s first statewide and regional obesity data and first regional oral health data for children.

The survey reveals some new information about the health of children in New Hampshire. One in three third graders (33%) was above a healthy weight and more boys (21%) than girls (15%) were obese. The Healthy People 2010 goal for childhood obesity is 5% or below. Approximately 44% of the third graders had experienced tooth decay, and 12% of children had untreated tooth decay at the time of the survey. An estimated 60% of the students had dental sealants. Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings applied to the back teeth to protect molars from decay.

Since the last third grade survey was conducted in 2004, there has been a marked improvement in the proportion of students with dental sealants and untreated decay. Several oral health initiatives over the last five years may have contributed to the improvement.

“The health of our children will determine the future health of our country,” said Dr. Jose Montero, Director of the Division of Public Health Services at DHHS. "Children’s oral health status has improved in New Hampshire, in part due to fluoride in water and access to dental care in school-based programs. A similar approach can help reduce childhood obesity. We encourage schools to improve nutrition and increase physicalactivity to help prevent childhood obesity.”

The survey found differences between schools with higher and lower proportions of children participating in the free and reduced-price meals program. In schools with a higher proportion of participating children, 27% of third graders were obese. In schools with a lower proportion of participating children, 16% were obese. Similarly, students in schools with a higher proportion of children participating in the free and reduced-price meals program had more tooth decay and were less likely to have protective dental sealants.

This survey also showed regional weight and oral health differences.

Students in the Belknap/Merrimack Region and Coos County had higher proportion of obese third graders compared with some other regions. Approximately 46% of third grade boys in Coos County and 43% of girls in the Belknap/Merrimack region were above a healthy weight. Coos County students had the highest proportion (64%) of third grade students with tooth decay and the lowest proportion (24%) of third grade students with dental sealants.

Schools are an excellent place to prevent dental disease and obesity in children. In New Hampshire, 168 schools (53% of all public elementary schools) provide dental services and dental health education for students.

To help reduce obesity, many schools have added daily physical activity. Some schools have also changed food offerings to make sure students eat more fruits, vegetables, low fat milk, and whole grains. Information from this survey will help public health programs direct resources to areas with the most need.

The 2008-09 Healthy Smiles-Healthy Growth Survey was a collaborative effort of the New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services, the New Hampshire Department of Education, the HNHfoundation, the Northeast Delta Dental Foundation, and the New Hampshire Dental Society Foundation. The full report can be viewed on the New Hampshire DHHS website at: http://www.dhhs.nh.gov and on the HNHfoundation website at: http://www.hnhfoundation.org/.