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New York City schoolchildren are losers when it comes to weight

December 16, 2011 |  8:33 am

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has made the city's health a priority in his three terms, announced Thursday that obesity rates among elementary and middle-school students in public schools have inched down over the last five years.

Although one in five of the schoolchildren are still overweight -- with minority and poor kids struggling the most with weight issues -- young New Yorkers are combating the problem better than those in any other large city in the nation, the mayor said at a news conference at a Bronx middle school that boasted a salad bar.

"This year our city saw a record decrease in the number of New Yorkers who smoke, and now we have even more good news about New Yorkers' health," Bloomberg said in a news release. "Even as childhood obesity in the rest of the nation has remained flat or gotten worse, in New York City, it is declining. Children who are more physically fit have fewer health problems -– and fewer trips to the hospital. That's great news for kids and their families, and for taxpayers too."

The city's health department released a report that showed overall obesity rates among kindergartners through eighth-graders -- children ages 5 through 14 -- decreased 5.5%, from 21.9% in 2006-07 to 20.7% in 2010-11. The sharpest decline was seen among kindergartners, with close to a 10% drop to 18.2% in 2010-11, from 20.2% in 2006-07.

The greatest decreases in obesity prevalence were observed among white children (a 12.5% drop) and Asian/Pacific Islander children (a 7.6% drop). Among black children the drop was 1.9% and among Latino children 3.4%.

In addition to crowing about "this statistically significant change" Bloomberg released new rules for vending machines in city buildings, requiring snacks to have fewer than 200 calories and 7 grams of fat.

In their statement, city officials outlined the reasons that may have contributed to the turnaround in obesity rates among schoolchildren:

The city put salad bars in targeted schools and the Department of Education has been providing healthier foods that appeal to kids, eliminated deep-fried food, and made water more accessible by adding more than 200 water jets to school cafeterias.

The city's schools have shifted from serving whole milk to low-fat milk, saving students 4.5 billion extra calories in 2008.

Beverage vending is limited to drinks with 10 calories per 8 ounces in elementary schools and 25 calories per 8 ounces in high schools, and snack vending includes a limit of 200 calories per item in addition to other nutritional criteria.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley was quoted as saying that the fight against obesity was far from over but that city's efforts were finally paying off.

"We believe the many steps we have taken to reverse the obesity epidemic have helped," he said. "While we believe we are on the right track, we have much more work to do to further reduce obesity rates of children and adults."

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-- Geraldine Baum in New York

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