An alarming 40% of students from kindergarten through high school were overweight or at risk of becoming too heavy in a study of nearly 300,000 school children in Arkansas, researchers said last week.
The new findings were based on evaluations of public school students in Arkansas, the first state to mandate yearly testing of every student's body mass index (BMI), a ratio of weight to height.
Obese children tend to become obese adults, putting themselves at higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some cancers and other health problems. Experts hope alerting parents and children early can keep children from becoming fat adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an annual BMI screening for every child.
In Arkansas, each parent receives a report on his or her child's height, weight and BMI. For overweight students, the report offers suggestions for changing diet and activities, and urges a discussion with the child's doctor.
Researchers so far have analyzed BMI measurements on 276,783 students, more than half of Arkansas' 450,000 public school students, during the 2003-2004 school year.
Twenty-two percent were overweight, 18 percent were at risk of becoming too heavy, and 2 percent were underweight. Fifty-eight percent of the students had a normal weight. Weight problems among children and teenagers varied by race and ethnicity.
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight, and almost one in three is obese, according to government statistics. A person with a BMI higher than 30 is considered obese. That usually means being 30 pounds (15 kg) overweight for a woman and 35 to 40 pounds (17 to 20 kg) for a man of average height.
BMI measurements for children also take into account gender and age, which have an impact on body fat.
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