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Orange County

Grand Jury Sends Up a Flag on Students' Weight

Almost 20% of school-age children are obese or overweight, the panel says. Report asks districts to better educate kids about exercise and nutrition.

June 09, 2004|Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writer

Nearly 100,000 Orange County students -- 1 out of every 5 school-age children -- are either overweight or obese, the Orange County Grand Jury reported Tuesday.

The county's 28 school districts need to increase efforts to encourage students to eat right and exercise more, the grand jury's 17-page report recommends.

"More focused educational programs are needed to drive home the idea that proper nutrition and physical activity are necessary to maintain ideal body weight," the jury wrote.

The grand jury noted that although the number of county students passing California's physical fitness test exceeded state averages, success rates were barely one-third or lower for the various grades.

The report, based on visits to school cafeterias and interviews with officials from 17 districts, echoed the concern of state and national education and health officials confronted with a dramatic rise in child obesity rates. The grand jury relied on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's definition of obesity, measured by body mass index.

The percentage of overweight or obese students in Orange County has doubled in 20 years. Nationwide, 5% of school-age children were severely overweight in 1980; two decades later, that figure had jumped to 15%.

The grand jury commended districts for serving meals that are in line with federal nutrition guidelines, while pushing them to hire specialists and appoint committees responsible for nutrition and exercise issues.

Specifically, the report encourages districts to post the number of calories and other information on cafeteria food, keep playgrounds open during off hours and better educate students on body mass index -- an equation that is based on weight and height used to measure body fat.

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