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The Childhood Obesity Epidemic Starting Earlier

The American Heart Association released a startling figure late last week about childhood obesity's longer reach to the crib: According to 2002 stats, more than 10 PERCENT of America's children between ages 2-5 are overweight, increasing by at least one-third over the past decade. By the numbers, more than 9 million kids ages 6-19 (a majority between ages 12-19) were overweight or obese.

If you want to get an "up close and personal" view of the childhood obesity epidemic, I strongly recommend you read this feature that appeared in yesterday's New York Times Magazine, my favorite newspaper in the world. The story researches this epidemic in a region of the country some might view as "ground zero" for the c hildhood obesity epidemic: Starr County, Texas, one of the poorest (59 percent of the kids live below the poverty line there) and fattest.

More astonishing numbers about the ballooning rates of obesity in this predominantly Mexican-American county based on age: By the time Starr County kids turn 4 years old, 24 percent of them are already overweight or obese. That number rises to 28 percent by kindergarten. By the time they enter first grade, 50 percent of the boys are overweight or obese, along with 35 percent of the girls.

During the past school year, a special projects coordinator for the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, made 13 trips to Rio Grande City, the largest town in Starr County to start a diabetes prevention program, one she first created for Sioux Indian reservations in South Dakota. After a screening of some 3,000 elementary school students about a year ago, the coordinator expected about 20 percent (600) at high risk for diabetes. Instead, the total number of kids at high risk was almost double (1,172).

If those number aren't convincing enough, 13 percent of the prekindergarten and 18 percent of the kindergarten students screened had acanthosis nigricans, a disorder that can signal insulin resistance, a warning sign of diabetes.

Myrtle Beach December 31, 2004

New York Times January 2, 2005

Spartanburg Herald-Journal January 2, 2005

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