Health & Fitness

Which Merced schools have the highest rates of student obesity? Here are the facts

The Merced, Fresno and Modesto areas have some of the highest childhood obesity rates in California and the country, according to a Sun-Star analysis of the latest five years of data from the California Department of Education.

Specifically, Tulare and Merced were ranked with the fourth and ninth highest obesity rates in California. Fresno and Stanislaus counties aren’t too far behind with the 11th and 13th highest rates, while Madera and Mariposa counties are farther down the list with the 22nd and 43rd highest rates.

In Merced, it’s a childhood obesity crisis with the data revealing almost half of Merced County elementary, middle school and junior high students, 44.6 percent, are either overweight or obese.

That’s more than twice the national childhood obesity average of about 18.5 percent, and higher than the statewide overweight-obesity rate of 39 percent, according to the data.

The Sun-Star analyzed physical fitness testing data from thousands of California schools between the 2013-14 and 2017-18 school years. The California Department of Education collects the school data, which is publicly available.

The data shows there are strong correlations between childhood obesity, poverty and rates of Latino populations, which doesn’t bode well for Central Valley counties with high poverty and Latino population rates.

The physical fitness testing data measures body composition with body mass index and body fat percentage data for fifth, seventh and ninth graders. Those students falling outside the state designated healthy zones for their grade level were counted in the overweight-obesity rates.

The Central Valley school with the highest overweight-obesity rate of schools with more than 100 students tested in the five-year period is Helm Elementary of Golden Plains Unified School District in Fresno County at 75 percent.

The next nine non-continuation or alternative education schools with the highest rates are:

  • Connecting Waters Charter, 73 percent, Waterford Unified, Stanislaus County
  • Annie R. Mitchell Elementary, 71 percent, Visalia Unified, Tulare County
  • Pinkham Elementary, 70 percent, Visalia Unified, Tulare County
  • Four Creeks Elementary, 68 percent, Visalia Unified, Tulare County
  • Burrel Elementary, 67 percent, Burrel Union Elementary, Fresno County
  • eCademy Charter at Crane, 67 percent, Turlock Unified, Stanislaus County
  • Ducor Union Elementary, 66 percent, Ducor Union Elementary, Tulare County
  • La Joya Middle School, 65 percent, Visalia Unified, Tulare County
  • McCabe Elementary, 65 percent, Mendota Unified, Fresno County

The 10 schools with the lowest rates are:

  1. Clay Elementary, 15 percent, Clay Joint Elementary, Fresno County
  2. Rivergold Elementary, 18 percent, Yosemite Unified, Madera County
  3. Minarets Charter High, 19 percent, Chawanakee Unified, Madera County
  4. Great Valley Academy Salida, 21 percent, Salida Union Elementary, Stanislaus County
  5. Quail Lake Environmental Charter, 22 percent, Sanger Unified, Fresno County
  6. James S. Fugman Elementary, 24 percent, Clovis Unified, Fresno County
  7. Century Elementary, 25 percent, Clovis Unified, Fresno County
  8. University High, 26 percent, Fresno Unified, Fresno County
  9. Copper Hills Elementary, 26 percent, Clovis Unified, Fresno County
  10. Granite Ridge Intermediate, 27 percent, Clovis Unified, Fresno County

In Merced County, the highest overweight-obesity rates of non-continuation/alternative schools with more than 100 students tested belong to:

  1. Planada Elementary, 56 percent, Planada Elementary
  2. Don Stowell Elementary, 55 percent, Merced City Elementary
  3. Alicia Reyes Elementary, 54 percent, Merced City Elementary
  4. Los Banos Elementary, 54 percent, Los Banos Unified
  5. Cesar E. Chavez Middle School, 54 percent, Planada Elementary
  6. Romero Elementary, 53 percent, Gustine Unified
  7. Washington Elementary, 53 percent, Merced River Union Elementary
  8. Sybil N. Crookham Elementary, 53 percent, Winton
  9. Campus Park Elementary, 53 percent, Livingston Union
  10. Westside Union Elementary, 52 percent, Los Banos Unified

The lowest rates in Merced County are:

  1. Le Grand High, 28 percent, Le Grand Union High
  2. Herbert H. Cruickshank Middle, 35 percent, Merced City Elementary
  3. Elmer Wood Elementary, 36 percent, Atwater Elementary
  4. Pioneer Elementary, 36 percent, Weaver Union
  5. McSwain Elementary, 36 percent, McSwain Union Elementary
  6. Hilmar Middle School, 37 percent, Hilmar Unified
  7. El Capitan High, 38 percent, Merced Union High
  8. Bryant Middle School, 38 percent, Dos Palos Oro Loma Joint Unified
  9. Donn B. Chenoweth Elementary, 39 percent, Merced City Elementary
  10. Rudolph Rivera Elementary, 39 percent, Merced City Elementary

The school districts with the highest overweight-obesity rates are:

  1. Allensworth Elementary, 66 percent, Tulare County
  2. Raymond-Knowles Union Elementary, 60 percent, Madera County
  3. Snelling-Merced Falls Union Elementary, 60 percent, Merced County
  4. Terra Bella Union Elementary, 60 percent, Tulare County
  5. Buena Vista Elementary, 59 percent, Tulare County
  6. Planada Elementary, 56 percent, Merced County
  7. Stone Corral Elementary, 55 percent, Tulare County
  8. Merced County Office of Education, 55 percent, Merced County
  9. Alpaugh Unified, 55 percent, Tulare County
  10. Orange Center, 54 percent, Fresno County

The school districts with the lowest rates are:

  1. Yosemite Unified, 27 percent, Madera County
  2. Le Grand Union High, 29 percent, Merced County
  3. Springville Union Elementary, 31 percent, Tulare County
  4. Sequoia Union Elementary, 32 percent, Tulare County
  5. Chawanakee Unified, 32 percent, Madera County
  6. Sierra Unified, 33 percent, Fresno County
  7. Clovis Unified, 33 percent, Fresno County
  8. Hickman Community Charter, 33 percent, Stanislaus County
  9. Mariposa County Unified, 34 percent, Mariposa County
  10. Clay joint Elementary, 34 percent, Fresno County

Here’s how school districts rank in Merced County (reliable data was not available for Le Grand Union Elementary):

  1. Snelling-Merced Falls Union Elementary, 60 percent
  2. Planada Elementary, 56 percent
  3. Merced County Office of Education, 55 percent
  4. El Nido Elementary, 49 percent
  5. Winton, 49 percent
  6. Dos Palos Oro Loma Joint Unified, 47 percent
  7. Los Banos Unified, 47 percent
  8. Plainsburg Union Elementary, 47 percent
  9. Livingston Union, 47 percent
  10. Gustine Unified, 46 percent
  11. Delhi Unified, 46 percent
  12. Atwater Elementary, 44 percent
  13. McSwain Union Elementary, 44 percent
  14. Merced Union High, 44 percent
  15. Merced River Union Elementary, 43 percent
  16. Merced City Elementary, 43 percent
  17. Weaver Union, 42 percent
  18. Ballico-Cressey Elementary, 40 percent
  19. Hilmar Unified, 40 percent
  20. Le Grand Union High, 29 percent

Here are interactive graphs showing student overweight-obesity rates for schools in Merced, Fresno, Stanislaus, Tulare, Madera and Mariposa counties, according to the data analysis. Rates of smaller schools with less than 100 students tested in the five-year timespan were not counted due to the small sample size.

Here are the rates for each school district in these counties.

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Vikaas Shanker is an award-winning reporter covering education, crime and courts for the Merced Sun-Star and Los Banos Enterprise. After growing up in Naperville, Illinois and graduating from the University of Kansas, he reported in several Chicago suburbs before moving to Merced County in 2016.
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