Thursday, May 10, 2001

Hawaii’s kids are
the nation’s heaviest

The issue: New research shows that
the percentage of American children
who are overweight is increasing, and
Hawaii's youth are especially heavy.

AMERICAN teens and children are becoming increasingly overweight, and Hawaii's youth tip the scale even more. Since overweight and obese children are at risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other health problems, the results of a five-year study are cause for concern. A pilot program of physical activity and nutritional changes should provide instruction about how this trend could be reversed.

The number of overweight children nearly doubled nationally during the past two decades. Initial results for 1999 show that 13 percent of children aged 6 to 11 are overweight, up from 11 percent in a survey conducted from 1988 to 1994, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youths aged 12 to 19 who are overweight increased from 11 percent to 14 percent during the same period.

In Hawaii, a study of 1,400 students aged 6 to 17 conducted jointly by the University of Hawaii and Brigham Young University shows that 22.2 percent of the younger children and 23.8 percent of the older ones are overweight. Those percentages are significantly above the national rate.

For some unknown reason, they are close to results of a survey in Canada, where boys and girls who are overweight increased from 15 percent in 1984 to 29 percent of boys and 23 percent of girls in 1996.

Adding to the puzzle, the pattern does not appear to extend to adults, although the upward direction is the same. While the obesity rate among Hawaii's children is twice the rate on the mainland, obesity among Hawaii adults has grown to 15.4 percent, still less than the national rate, which has risen to 18.9 percent.

More may be learned from a one-year program focusing on physical activity and nutrition that will begin in August in five schools in the Kahuku area. If the program is effective, it may be expanded statewide.

"Physical activity is not the only way we can solve the problem," says Kwok-Wai Ho, a principal investigator for the study. "There are many other factors in terms of childhood obesity."

Parents should not await the results of that program. They should take measures promptly to reduce dietary fat in meals, encourage their children to become more active and make themselves models of a healthy lifestyle.

Poor children benefit
most from preschools

The issue: Disadvantaged kids
are more likely to succeed if they
are given good pre-schooling.

Preschool education can go a long way in helping poor children to stay in school and to better their lives, a fresh study shows. It is an encouraging note that resonates in Hawaii and across the nation where education has come to the forefront of concern.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin tracked 1,500 poor children in Chicago, 989 of whom were enrolled in the Chicago Child Parent Center Program before they reached the age of 4. The 15-year study found that fewer of that program's graduates were arrested for juvenile crimes and that more graduated from high school than those who had not.

The study, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, concluded that programs like Head Start boosted the likelihood of successful lives for children living in poverty.

Although preschool education groups in Hawaii do not have statistics, they agree that early childhood programs give children a leg up in learning and in social skills.

The state government has supported this premise. In 1997, the state created the Good Beginnings Alliance, a group that coordinates early childhood educational organizations and helps to raise the performance of teachers. In 1994, fewer than 1,000 poverty-level children were enrolled in preschool. That number has increased to about 8,400. Earlier this year, Governor Cayetano set up Pre-Plus, a program to guarantee preschool access to the estimated 8,000 needy children. The state Legislature appropriated $100,000 for planning and $5 million for buildings. A spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, who heads the project, says work has begun to outline needs and select sites.

A good part of the Chicago program's success is due to a requirement that parents be involved. It also focuses on children's physical and mental health, the stability of families and learning skills rather than book work. Head Start programs here involve parents, family advocates, nurses, dental hygienists and nutritionists as well as teachers "to take care of the whole child," says training specialist Joni Ekimura.

Head Start officials, however, are concerned that President Bush has ranked those aspects below more measurable skills such as the ability to read. A continuing study of 40 Head Start programs across the country has found that the typical child entered kindergarten knowing only two letters. Although preschools have improved, they should examine and hone programs to prepare young children to head into the classroom.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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