One In Five American Children Is Obese

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Child Obesity

America is facing an epidemic. Despite numerous studies showing the negative effects of obesity on everything from heart disease and diabetes to possible links with cancer, one in five American children is obese. However, a collaborative program sponsored by the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor community teaches children healthy habits and offers hope for a healthier future. And results from a new study suggest that the program is working.

"Anything we can do to fight childhood obesity in a culture where it is being fostered in so many ways is critical," says Kim Eagle, M.D., professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. In 2004, Eagle and local organizations in Ann Arbor, Mich., founded Project Healthy Schools (www.projecthealthyschools.org), a program for sixth-grade students that's designed to increase physical activity and promote healthier food choices.

This week, U-M's Kimberly Lin, M.D., presented data at the prestigious American College of Cardiology conference indicating that the program has been successful in its first couple of years. Lin's presentation showed that program participants had a significant drop in diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol levels. Additionally, there was a downward trend in systolic blood pressures and blood glucose levels among the students.

Initially just implemented in one middle school, the program was so well received that it has now expanded to five local middle schools. The program's success has been acknowledged by the Michigan Surgeon General, who has recognized all the middle schools in the district through the Healthy School Environment Recognition Program.

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Measuring change

"We've had very positive feedback and we know we're changing some behaviors," says Jean DuRussel-Weston, U-M's MFit Community Health Initiatives program administrator and Project Healthy Schools manager. "In addition to self-reports, we're very proud of the fact that we have physical measurements indicating change as well."

In the presentation to the American College of Cardiology, Lin cited data from a study done using the measurements from the 2005-2006 academic year. The study aimed to both describe the prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors in the students and to determine the program's effect on those risk factors.

The researchers found that 40 percent of the 287 students assessed were considered "at-risk" for at least one of the six major risk factor categories, which included body mass index (BMI), systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and random glucose.

Prior to the intervention, 32 percent of the study participants were overweight (with a BMI above the 85th percentile for their height). A significant number of students were also identified as "at-risk" for systolic blood pressure (SBP) and total cholesterol levels. The researchers found that 8.7 percent had a SBP of at least 126 mmHg (which is the 90th percentile for an 11-year-old boy at the 95th percentile for height) and 9.6 percent had total cholesterol greater than 200mg/dl pre-intervention.

"The program allows us to identify students who are at risk," says Eagle. "We found that of the 40 percent of students at risk, 10 percent were a major concern. As a result, we contacted their parents and advised them to seek involvement with their child

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