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AREA KIDS GROW FATTER BULGE WINNING BATTLE SINCE '01.

Byline: Lisa M. Sodders Staff Writer

Despite efforts to promote fitness and healthier foods, the number of obese children in the San Fernando Valley and statewide soared over the past three years, alarming experts who predict a health crisis if drastic measures are not taken, a report released today says.

Updating an earlier study based on 2001 figures, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy found that childhood obesity rose 6.2 percent statewide and as much as 15 percent in the Valley area.

``We were shocked by the findings,'' said Harold Goldstein, the center's executive director. ``Given the amount of media attention this epidemic has gotten, we didn't expect an increase of 6 percent in just three years. This is a personal and medical disaster.''

The study broke down the percentages by Assembly district and found there was an increase in the number of overweight children in nearly 90 percent of the districts.

The results show that efforts by many individuals and some school systems, including a ban on selling junk food and soda on Los Angeles Unified campuses, aren't enough, Goldstein said.

He said parents need to enlist their city, county and state officials to change their community's environment and counteract a pervasive marketing juggernaut that bombards children every day with images of junk food and sugar-filled drinks.

What is needed, he said, is a campaign similar to the massive national anti-smoking effort in the 1970s and 1980s, which many credit for a sharp decline in smoking among adults.

``The solution needs to be much more comprehensive than the schools,'' Goldstein said.

``We're really at the beginning of the movement. We need to establish statewide policies that support parents in teaching their children to make the right choices, rather than continuing to allow the financial interests of soda and fast-food companies to win out over the health of our children.''

Among the Assembly districts that encompass eastern Ventura and northern Los Angeles counties, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine's 40th District had the biggest increase over a three-year period: 15.3 percent, with 31.9 percent of the children obese, compared with 27.7 percent in 2001.

Levine, who launched the Kids' Fitness Challenge races in 2004 and is an avid marathon runner, said he believes many of the fitness initiatives are too new to have yet made a dent in the obesity rates.

``It takes a while to change things, especially ingrained habits,'' said Levine, D-Van Nuys. ``We just need to keep fighting - and fighting harder - to show people how to be fit and healthy.''

Assemblywoman Cindy Montaez's 39th District posted a 6.1 percent increase, but it had the highest percentage of overweight kids of the nine Valley districts, with 37.8 percent.

``In our district, there's a direct correlation between high poverty and high obesity,'' said Montaez, D-Mission Hills, whose district includes some of the poorest portions of the eastern San Fernando Valley.

Her district also has the second-smallest acreage of parkland available per resident, Montaez said. One of the legislative changes she would like to see is more funding for parkland for districts with high obesity rates.

The president of the Los Angeles Unified School District board, Marlene Canter, called the ban on soda and junk-food sales a ``giant baby step,'' but noted that it is less than a year old.

The district is launching farmers markets at eight campuses, with the goal of eventually expanding them to all its high schools, to give students access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The LAUSD has also allocated $50 million of a proposed $4 billion bond measure for joint-use projects with the city, such as keeping schools open after hours and on weekends for community use.

The 41st District represented by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Woodland Hills, posted a 4.4 decline in childhood obesity, the only Valley-based district with a drop. Roughly 24 percent of children rated overweight, compared with 25.1 percent three years ago, in the more affluent region that includes coastal Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Statewide, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuez's 46th District, which incorporates downtown Los Angeles, central Los Angeles, Little Tokyo, Boyle Heights and a portion of East Los Angeles, had the highest percentage of overweight children: 39.1 percent, a 6.4 percent increase from three years earlier.

The study's findings are significant because childhood obesity has been linked to at least 10 chronic diseases. Seventy-five percent of obese adolescents become obese adults.

If the trends continue, California Center for Public Health Advocacy analysts estimate that, of children born in 2000, about one-third of the boys and 39 percent of the girls will go on to develop Type II diabetes, once referred to as ``adult onset'' but increasingly seen in children.

Center analysts say obesity in California costs the state an estimated $28 billion in direct medical expenses and lost productivity. And Montaez noted another ominous trend: Hospitals across the Southland have been closing, dramatically reducing access to medical care.

The center report comes on the heels of one released earlier this week by the Trust for America's Health. That study found that obesity rates are rising nationwide and that government policies are insufficient and too narrowly focused to stop the trend.

The California study examined data from the state's 2004 physical-fitness test given to students in the fifth, seventh and ninth grades through the California Department of Education. The study focused on one of the measures, the Body Mass Index or BMI. For example, in the BMI calculation, a 10-year-old boy who is 4 feet 8 inches tall is considered overweight if he weighs 94 pounds.

The study found the rate of overweight children grew from 26.5 of every 100 students in 2001 to 28.1 of every 100 in 2004.

The researchers also found that the prevalence of overweight children increased for every ethnicity and age studied, as well as for both genders, although boys were more likely to be overweight than girls, and Pacific Islanders and Latinos had higher rates of obesity than non-Latino whites and Asians.

The study recommends that health foods be made available in preschool, school and after-school programs. School physical-fitness programs should be enhanced and campus facilities made available for after-hours use by children.

Lisa M. Sodders, (818) 713-3663

lisa.sodders(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

box, map

Box:

(1) FIT TIPS

SOURCE: California Center for Public Health Advocacy, California Project Lean

Daily News

Map:

OVERWEIGHT KIDS FACE HEALTH RISKS - ASSEMBLY DISTRICTS

SOURCE: California Center for Public Health Advocacy

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Aug 25, 2005
Words:1086
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