Las Vegas Sun

July 31, 2014

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30 percent of young Nevada children are obese, study finds

Nearly a third of Nevada children are considered obese by the time they enter kindergarten, according to a recent UNLV report.

Since 2008, the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy has issued an annual report listing demographic and health information for some of the state’s youngest residents: incoming kindergarteners. This year, more than 7,300 surveys were collected from parents with the help of the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health and the state’s 17 school districts. About 60 percent of survey respondents were from Clark County.

UNLV’s report found that 30 percent of Nevada’s 4- and 5-year-olds are overweight or obese, a 1.4 percent increase from last year. The Silver State’s share of overweight children has hovered around 30 percent since the survey was first administered five years ago.

Nationally, childhood obesity has more than doubled in young children over the past three decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About a third of American children ages 6 to 11 are considered overweight or obese.

“You would hope that those numbers would go down, but it’s not,” said Amanda Haboush-Deloye, a senior research associate at UNLV’s children’s institute. “These children are much more at risk for health problems.”

Researchers studied a child's "body mass index" to determine whether they were underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese. The index looks at a child's weight in relation to his or her height. Calculate your child's body mass index here.

The report doesn’t explain why Nevada’s child obesity rate has plateaued around 30 percent. However, childhood obesity is attributed to a combination of factors nationally, including a decrease in physical activity and an increase in unhealthy food available to children.

The survey says Nevada children are participating in more physical activity, watching less television and drinking less soda than last year — all encouraging signs in the fight against childhood obesity.

But on the other hand, children are spending more time playing on computers and video games. About half of children drink sugary juice once or more times a day.

“Obesity is a very complex issue,” Haboush-Deloye said. “This information can help inform us, but these aren’t the entire set of factors (causing obesity).”

UNLV researchers hope state lawmakers will look at the report’s findings and make informed policy decisions to combat childhood obesity. Researchers recommend that licensed child care centers provide more healthy foods and physical activity for children while decreasing TV time. They also advise policymakers and other groups to educate parents about healthy eating and exercising habits.

“This issue is starting early. Children are not necessarily becoming suddenly obese when they get to high school,” Haboush-Deloye said. “The earlier we can start promoting a healthy lifestyle, the better outcomes we’re going to have.”

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