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Study Blames TV, Lack of Exercise for Overweight Generation of Kids

March 31, 1988|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

Children in the first few years of elementary school are becoming increasingly overweight and inactive, according to a recent national survey.

The study, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' office of disease prevention and health promotion, found that the physical fitness of children in grades one through four has declined "significantly" over the past 20 years.

The weight gain is particularly acute in those youths who are already considered obese, a condition that often lingers into adulthood and can create serious health problems. The findings are also a concern because failure to establish exercise and fitness habits in elementary school can deter such activity in later years.

An account of the study appeared in Nutrition Week, a newsletter published by the Washington-based Community Nutrition Institute.

Interviews With Parents

The results were gathered from tests of school-age children along with interviews of parents, teachers and the students.

The decline in physical fitness of youths aged 6 through 9 was attributed to a lack of parental supervision, a de-emphasis of organized physical activity in schools and excessive television viewing.

These factors are contributing to the "demise of these children by providing insufficient support for proper fitness and health," according to the survey, formally known as the National Children and Youth Fitness Study.

For instance, the report found that children in this age group spend an average of more than two hours watching television each school day. On weekends this figure increases by 75%, to three hours and 26 minutes of viewing per day. The study claimed that the less time spent by grade-school-aged children in organized sports or physical activity meant more time for television.

No Exercise

Another problem in the home is that parents rarely exercise with their children. Most adults queried said that fewer than one day a week is spent in any physical activity involving them and their children. This connection is deemed important because the lack of parental involvement fails to enhance the child's perception of the value of exercise.

The inactivity was not limited to the home.

The study reported that 37% of those students surveyed participate in a physical education class only once or twice a week. A slightly smaller number, 36%, are enrolled in such a class on a daily basis. But even these figures are misleading.

In some cases, schools are apparently counting class recess as physical education and are virtually "neglecting" any organized exercise or sport. Furthermore, 33% of adult instructors supervising physical education classes are not certified in the field.

As such, the study's "disturbing" discovery of decreasing exercise and changes in body fat levels signals that these children's "vulnerability" to various health problems is increasing.

Finding Fault--Segments of the health food industry came under fire recently in an editorial published in the newsletter of the National Council Against Health Fraud.

The Loma Linda-based group, whose members consist of traditional medical and nutritional professionals, sharply criticized those who promote alternative dietary practices, stating that this creates "unnecessary fear" about the nation's food supply.

In fact, the newsletter went on to state that individuals who undermine the public's confidence for profit can be accused of "food terrorism."

The term was specifically applied to "people with ulterior motives who create unnecessary fear, anxiety and worry about conventional foods." The editorial further stated that, once fostered, this climate of fear leads to the increasing problem of nutrition quackery.

In addition to food, the targets of the so-called quacks are water supplies and health care, according to the newsletter.

"The health food industry is founded upon food terrorism. The industry justifies its very existence on the false notion that supermarket foods are unhealthful," the newsletter stated.

A spokesman for the National Health Federation, a Monrovia-based group that represents several segments of the health food trade, said the council's editorial is just the latest in a series of attempts to discredit the industry.

"I'm intrigued by the idea that the terrorists are the people that suggest we don't add pesticides to foods nor herbicides to the soil nor cancer-causing additives to the diet," said Clinton Ray Miller, health freedom legislative advocate for the federation. "The gentle people are being labeled as terrorists by those who found that the term quackery fell flat when applied to us and the term fraud also fell flat . . . they have now reached the outer limits."

Miller acknowledged that some members of his organization have "health ideas that are abhorrent to me." Yet, he still defends these individuals because of their "right to use food (and medical therapies) any way they want."

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