More than 20 per cent of Los Angeles school children are overweight, according to a study presented at the national meeting of the American College of Preventive Medicine in San Diego on Friday.
The researchers analyzed body mass index (BMI) data from 280,630 students in the 5th, 7th, and 9th grades of the Los Angeles County (LAC) public school system. They said that the prevalence of overweight in these children far exceeds the Healthy People 2010 target of 5 per cent. Nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of overweight is slightly more than 15 per cent.
The prevalence of being overweight was higher among boys (23.7 per cent) than girls (17.4 per cent), and worryingly, overweight prevalence was inversely related to grade level (24.6 per cent among 5th graders, 19.9 per cent among 7th graders, and 15.7 per cent among 9th graders).
Lead author of the study Dr Nolan Lee of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, CDC, assigned to the LA Department of Health Services, explained that the data reported by the LAC school system on BMI was calculated from height and weight measurements taken on children who were tested in the spring of 2001. Overweight was classified as BMI at the 95th percentile and above, using growth charts developed by CDC.
In 1995, the California State Legislature mandated physical fitness testing of all public school children in grades 5, 7, and 9. The California program consisted of a battery of standardized physical fitness tests that included height and weight measurements. The researchers used the data from the 2001 California Fitness Testing Program for their results.
In terms of ethnicity, the prevalence of being overweight was highest among Latino children (25.2 per cent), followed by Pacific Islander (19.9 per cent), black (19.3 per cent), white (13 per cent), and Asian American (11.9 per cent) students.
The authors noted that, although studies had shown an epidemic rise in overweight among children in the U.S., little data was available to assess the status of overweight among local youth populations.