Schools, state team up for student weight survey; children’s obesity is a problem in South Dakota

Schools, state team up for student weight survey; children's obesity is a problem in South Dakota Too many South Dakota students are heavier than they should be, says a new report from the state departments of health and education.

According to the report, approximately 30 percent of South Dakota children are considered overweight and 15-20 percent are obese. The report is based on student height and weight data submitted to the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Cultural Affairs for the 1998-1999 school year.

Many schools routinely collect student height and weight data; 110 voluntarily submitted data for 16,000 kindergarten, elementary and high school students.

"Nationally, childhood obesity is a growing problem and we've suspected that was the case in South Dakota as well but until now have not had any concrete data to know for sure," said Kristin Biskeborn, MPH, RD, LN, State Nutritionist for the South Dakota Department of Health. "Now, thanks to the schools, South Dakota not only has the data to measure this problem, it leads the nation in terms of statewide data collection on childhood obesity."

Biskeborn said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed the South Dakota data using current weight-for-height criteria and body mass index measures from the National Center for Health Statistics growth charts for children and adolescents. In this report overweight was defined as above the 85th percentile for children of the same age and gender and obese was defined as above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and gender.

According to the analysis, 31.8 percent of 3-4 year olds were overweight and 17.8 percent were obese; 28.1 percent of 5-9 year olds were overweight and 15.2 percent obese; and among 10-12 year olds 28.7 were overweight and 14.5 obese. Using the current criteria for 14-18 year olds, 31.5 to 41.9 percent were overweight and 15.5 to 19.4 were obese. American Indian children were more likely to be overweight and obese than white children.

Biskeborn said these percentages are well above the national objective of 5 percent or lower prevalence of obesity, placing significant numbers of South Dakota children at increased health risk. Obese children and adolescents have increased cardiovascular risk factors such as elevated blood pressure and insulin levels. They are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes that typically appears in adults but is increasingly being diagnosed among overweight adolescents.

They mature earlier than non-overweight children and face psychological consequences such as lower self-esteem, a negative self-image and fewer friends.

Promoting healthy eating and increasing physical activity are the keys to reducing childhood overweight and obesity, said Biskeborn.

"At the same time, it's critically important that we're careful not to encourage preoccupation with weight, inappropriate eating habits, or the extreme amounts of exercise associated with eating disorders," said Biskeborn.

Biskeborn offered the following tips for parents, teachers and others interested in reducing childhood overweight and obesity:

* Provide children with healthy food choices for meals and snacks.

* Provide healthy snacks for school parties and special events.

* Encourage children to be physically active.

* Involve children in selecting and preparing food.

* Learn what children want from physical activity programs and help them choose appropriate activities.

* Volunteer to help children's sports teams and recreation programs.

* Play and be physically active with children.

* Teach children safety rules and make sure that they have the clothing and equipment needed to participate safely in physical activity.

* Limit television watching or video games to no more than one hour per day.

* Set a good example by being physically active and eating a healthy, balanced intake high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

* Advocate for convenient, safe, and adequate places for young people to play and take part in physical activity programs.

* Support daily physical education and other school programs that promote lifelong healthy eating and physical activity, not just competitive sports.

* Urge school associations and clubs to sell healthy foods or nonfood items for fundraising activities.

* Join school health or nutrition advisory council, such as Team Nutrition, to help guide nutrition policy and educational programs.

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