Weighing a Heavy Situation

UNLV study reveals 25 percent of Nevada children entering kindergarten are obese

Until children reach elementary school, they live largely off the radar, away from most surveys and studies that would normally gauge their health and well-being. The recently released “Health Status of Children Entering Kindergarten” survey focused on the health status of children entering kindergarten in hopes of examining this group, says Denise Tanata Ashby, executive director of the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research in the School of Community Health Sciences at UNLV, which conducted the study.

“This is a group of kids it’s really hard to get information on,” Ashby says. “Once they’ve been in school awhile, it’s easy to get data on them. When the kids get into school, that’s when other conditions get recognized. We’re trying to gauge the health of these kids prior to entering the public school system.”

One of the standout statistics was the obesity rate. Of the 39.2 percent of parents who responded to the survey statewide, 42 percent of parents provided their child’s height, weight, age and gender, and of those, 25.3 percent were considered obese.

In the coming months, more attention will be paid to the obesity rate as the study’s findings are examined more in-depth. During that time, clinicians will get a better idea of who the children are, including their household income, background and surroundings, Ashby says.

A way to shed preliminary light on the UNLV study’s numbers is to compare it to studies that survey older children. In comparison, the obesity rate seems to be in a holding pattern, Ashby says.

“We’re not seeing an increase, so the kids aren’t gaining any more weight, but they’re not losing it either,” she adds. “What this tells us is we need to concentrate on reaching these kids before they get to school.”

The survey was given to 9,504 parents in 16 school districts statewide between the child’s registration date and the first two weeks of the 2009-10 school year. Because of its size, a sample group was created for Clark County, which comprised 59 percent of the sample, with 17.6 percent from Washoe County and 23.4 percent from remaining rural counties.

In the coming months, the numbers will be broken down to the current Clark County School District area map. Equal attention was paid to lower- and higher-income schools, and although the numbers are generally consistent compared to the first study last year, there was a 3 percent increase in children living in households with less than a $25,000 annual income, a product of the less-than-desirable economy, Ashby says.

She hopes the information generated by the study will eventually help the school district get a general picture of the health of incoming kindergartners and how to help them.

“If we try to do some outreach to get kids enrolled in some of these programs,” she says, “we know who to reach out to.”

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