2 In 5 Kids in New York Are Overweight

According to a new report, 2 out of every 5 of New York City's children from kindergarten to eighth grade, are either overweight or obese.

This figure, released in a report on Sunday, comes from the latest New York City (NYC) Fitnessgram assessment, a new program that was piloted in 2005-06 and is now in place across the city.

The program uses height and weight measures collected through a school year and converts them into body mass index (BMI) measures. These, together with the results of a fitness test, are sent to parents.

The latest figures for BMI, covering school year 2008-09, shows that 40 per cent of New York City's nearly 637,000 pre-highschoolers, that is from age around 5 or 6 to around 13 or 14 years, are overweight or obese, which is about the same as the previous year.

This is roughly in line with the national average: according to the the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 35.5 per cent of 6 to 11-year olds across the US are either overweight or obese. (The NYC Fitnessgram uses the same BMI for age percentile categories as the CDC, where obesity for example is defined as a BMI greater than the 95th percentile.)

Cathy Nonas, director of New York City Health Department's Physical Activity and Nutrition Programs, told the press:

"I'm sorry to say it's in line with the nation, but we're certainly working hard to get it down from here."

However, among obese children, New York is above the national average, with 22 per cent kids obese compared to 19.6 per cent across the US as a whole.

Childhood obesity is also a serious long term public health problem, since obese kids have an 80 per cent chance of staying obese their entire lives, according to estimates cited by the American Heart Association (AHA).

In a ZIP code breakdown, the report reveals that poorer neighbourhoods are the most severely affected: 51 per cent of pre-highschoolers in Corona, Queens were overweight or obese, followed by 48 to 49 per cent in parts of Harlem and 47 per cent in Washington Heights.

In the more affluent parts of NYC, the figures for overweight and obese children were much lower, with Manhattan's West 60s showing only 11.7 per cent of their pre-highschoolers being overweight or obese, TriBeCa 15 per cent, and parts of the East 50s just over 18 per cent, reports the New York Times.

Nonas suggested because there has been no increase on the previous year, the latest figures could herald the start of a drop in overweight and obesity rates in the City's children.

Although NYC has introduced several new measures to address obesity, such as displaying calories on menus and banning trans fats in restaurants and fast food chains, she said it would be naïve to suggest this would have a significant impact on childhood obesity.

Instead, the authorities will use the figures to help better prioritize and target physical exercise and nutrition programs for schoolchildren.

For example, she told the New York Times that the city has already replaced full fat milk with 1 per cent fat, replaced chocolate milk with skimmed milk, and has also banned all sugar-sweetened beverages from vending machines on school premises.

Other plans include training 3,000 teachers in imaginative and fun physical exercises that children could do during breaks.

New York City's Department of Education introduced NYC Fitnessgram, its own version of Fitnessgram licensed from Cooper Institute and Human Kinetics, in 2005. The program was piloted in 2005-2006 and is now implemented city-wide.

As well as measuring BMI, the NYC Fitnessgram program also assesses each student's performance on fitness assessments covering body composition, muscular strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, and aerobic capacity, suggests ways to help them reach their own "healthy fitness zone".

However, Fitnessgram states that unlike many traditional programs, it does not compare students against each other or a standardized norm but only follows each individual's progress as a measure of improvement and suggested targets.

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