In a study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition about overweight urban, low-income, African American and Hispanic children attending Los Angeles elementary schools, the authors firmly establish the prevalence and severity of nutritional problems among low-income children in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
The study represents the first-ever comprehensive study of the nutritional status of multi-grade children of elementary school age in the LAUSD, the second largest school district in the nation.
According to Wendelin M. Slusser, MD, Venice Family Clinic staff pediatrician, Assistant Clinic Professor at UCLA Schools of Medicine and Public Health, and lead author of the study, “Overweight children not only suffer from negative psychosocial repercussions from their peers, sleep apnea and orthopedic complications, but older overweight children and adolescents are now also presenting with type II diabetes mellitus and hypertension, diseases normally seen in the obese adult.”
The study measured and interviewed 919 children in 14 elementary schools and found that more than 35% of the sample was classified at being at risk for overweight. The racial and ethnic mix of the children participating in the study reflected the overall student body of the 14 schools.
The racial/ethnic groups with the highest percentage of obesity were the African Americans (46.5%) and Hispanics (41.2%). These rates are considerably higher than those found in US national surveys – Hispanics (28.7%), African American (20.1%).
Since children of elementary school age in the lower socioeconomic groups eat the majority of their meals at school, Dr. Slusser and her colleagues have been instrumental in developing pilot projects with LAUSD policy-makers that are designed to address the nutritional problem and include salad bar lunch menu options and enhancement of physical activity programs through the in-service training of classroom teachers.
Still, Dr. Slusser says, much must still be done. “Designing a primary obesity prevention school-based program plus parent education is a practical and necessary solution to the complex problem of obesity.” Dr. Slusser hopes that as more attention is given to practical solutions within the schools that progress will be made and all of society will benefit.