- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2003

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The state of Arkansas, where deep frying is a way of life, is sending its students home with notes not just about their grades, but about their weight.

Mississippi is the only state with more overweight children than Arkansas, where one quarter of its 447,000 students is overweight.

Nine percent of children younger than 5 already are obese.



In a bid to halt the trend, schools next spring will mail parents what have become known as the “fatty letter,” which will show their child’s body mass index.

A rating of higher than 25 means the child is overweight, higher than 30 is obese.

Parents will also receive information about obesity-related health risks and advice on healthy diets.

“Many parents do not understand the risks of childhood obesity. Parents want and deserve to be informed if their children are at risk for developing health problems,” said Fay Boozman, director of the Arkansas Department of Health.

The program, approved by the state legislature earlier this year, has its critics, who say it unfairly singles out children for being overweight without solving the problem.

“To me, it’s not the appropriate answer,” said Nancy Rousseau, principal of Central High School in the state capital of Little Rock.

But health officials said they hope that documenting the problem will end the denial among parents who are reluctant to believe that their own children could be overweight.

The American Academy of Pediatrics backs programs like the one in Arkansas, saying every child should have his or her body mass index checked every year.

“The food and physical activity environments we offer our children is a recipe for obesity, and much human suffering will be the result,” said Kelly Brownell, chair of Yale’s Department of Psychology and director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders.

In Arkansas alone, type 2 diabetes in childhood, which has a strong link to obesity, has risen 800 percent during the past 10 years.

Obesity is a major problem in the United States.

According to official statistics, obesity causes 300,000 deaths every year in the United States, and the annual cost of treating weight-related problems is $117 billion.

In 2000, approximately 65 percent of the adult population in the United States was overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Childhood obesity is associated with a significantly higher risk of severe obesity in adulthood, according to a study by a team of social scientists from Purdue University and the University of Arizona.

In a major study, researchers Kenneth Ferraro and Roland Thorpe of Purdue University and Jody Wilkinson of the University of Arizona found that one third of obese adults were overweight as children.

Their study was reported in the March issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

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