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Kids and Health Care: What Fat Kids Face

A simple truth is that overweight children face a far greater risk of high blood pressure -- and various other health problems -- than their leaner peers do.

A health study of students in Houston public schools published in the March 2004 issue of the journal Pediatrics proved this point in scientific detail. The study of 5,102 students between age 10 and 19 found that 4.5 percent had high blood pressure and that blood pressure rose in tandem with body mass index (or BMI). Among overweight children, 11 percent already had high blood pressure -- and the oldest of them were just 19.

Overall, 20 percent of the students in the study had a BMI at or above the 95th percentile -- the definition of "overweight" for children. And the obesity rates in the Houston schools had an ethnic component; rates were highest among Hispanic kids, at a shocking 31 percent. Twenty percent of the black kids were overweight; so were 15 percent of the white kids and 11 percent of the Asian kids.

Hispanic children also more frequently had high blood pressure, a finding the researchers tied back to their disproportionately high BMIs.

High blood pressure is one of a number of cardiovascular conditions, including type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, increasingly being seen in children as their rates of overweight and obesity climb.

Lead author Ronald Portman of the University of Texas Health Science Center argued that the responsibility for reacting is on parents and guardians -- because their children are largely powerless over the food that's in the house. But Portman and his colleagues did admit that their study emphasized the importance of schools not adding to the problem by offering junk food meals in their cafeterias and soda machines in their hallways.

Bad diet comes at kids from all angles. A February 2004 report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest pointed out that -- while the servings may be smaller for chain restaurant children's menu items -- the food was loaded with fat.

CSPI researchers analyzed food choices for children available at 20 of the top sit-down chain restaurants in the U.S. They found little variety in the children's menus, which are heavily tilted toward fattening foods -- hamburgers, breaded chicken, pizza and french fries. Many of the kids' meals equaled or exceeded the U.S. government's daily recommended totals for children of 17 grams of fat and 1,500 calories.

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