Jueves 11 de Abril de 2002, Ip nš 12

Letter home: Your child is overweight
PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (AP) -- Some parents are getting letters home from school these days, but not because their youngsters are acting up or flunking out. The problem is their children are too fat.

The letters are worded with more sensitivity than that, of course, but the idea is to encourage parents to change their children's eating habits and help them get more exercise.

Parents of students in the East Penn school system in Pennsylvania and in Florida's Citrus County district have been getting such weight alerts since the fall.

"When an examination reveals a child has vision problems, hearing problems, we inform the family. We weren't doing anything for weight," said George Ziolkowski, director of pupil personnel services for the 6,800-student East Penn district, about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia. "If we have information that may have some bearing on a child's future health, why just put it in a drawer?"

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About 380 confidential letters have gone out to elementary and middle school students since the program began in the fall, with more expected once high school screenings are completed, Ziolkowski said.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the percentage of children and adolescents who are defined as overweight has more than doubled since the early 1970s, constituting a public health epidemic.

Nationwide, about 13 percent of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, as are nearly 60 percent of adults, according to a report released in December by then-Surgeon General David Satcher. Being overweight can contribute to diabetes and high blood pressure.

Computer games and television are among the reasons given for the problem, along with busy parents who rely on fast food for their kids.

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In Citrus County, about 65 miles north of Tampa, the 15,000-student district and the county health department send every parent the results of a body-mass test, with a box checked indicating whether the child is normal, overweight, at risk of being overweight, or underweight. The letters alert parents of overweight children to the health risks.

Some parents complained that the school system was only calling attention to their child's weight problem, "when the fact of the matter is that they're reminded of that fact every day" by classmates, said Sylvia Byrd of the Florida Health Department's School Health Program.

"To people who say this hurts their self-image, I would say that the biggest boost for their self-image would be to get them to a healthier weight and a more active lifestyle."

Dr. Andrew Tershakovec at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia said the letters are a good idea. "It's wholly appropriate for the public health community to identify children in this way," he said. "It's a public health issue."


  22/03/2002. CNN.