Kindergartners face hurdles to better health

San Francisco may have a reputation as a health-conscious city, but a recent study found that kindergartners in local public schools were more likely to be overweight than kids their age nationwide.

A sample of 4,000 kindergartners entering school in the fall of 2007 showed that 18 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys were overweight, compared with 13 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys nationally, according to an Applied Survey Research study commissioned by First 5 San Francisco and the San Francisco Unified School District.

“There are plenty of kids who, by the time they’re 4 or 5, have a weight problem,” said Dana Woldow, co-chair of the SFUSD’s nutrition and physical activity committee. “And you’re going to see it most in low-income, Latino, Pacific Islander and African-American kids.”

Hispanic kindergartners composed 28 percent of last year’s student population, which also included 26 percent Chinese, 17 percent “other,” 16 percent white and 13 percent black students, according to the APR study. In addition, 54 percent of SFUSD students qualified for free or reduced-cost lunch in 2007-08, meaning their families took in less than $39,000 per year, according to Woldow.

Researchers also found that fewer San Francisco kindergartners were at risk of becoming overweight when compared with the national average, but speculated that parents might have under-reported the weights of “borderline” children but were more straightforward when their children were obviously overweight, according to the study.

More children become overweight as they get into their preteens. While 13.9 percent of children ages 2 to 5 were deemed overweight nationwide, that percentage rose to 18.8 percent among children ages 6 to 11, then fell slightly to 17.4 among kids 12 to 19, according to Karen Hunter with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, officials are working hard to help kids shape up.

Public-school kids are required to spend roughly 20 minutes per day in some kind of physical activity or play, from hula hoops to somersaults or running games, according to Mark Elkin in the SFUSD’s health division. Their school-provided meals also must meet U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition regulations, Elkin said.

Outside of school, children may stay outdoors because their neighborhoods are plagued by frequent violence, said Department of Public Health worker Christine Ngoette, who focuses on citywide fitness and nutrition policy.

“I would look at Sunday Streets as an example of how we’re trying to create environments that are conducive to getting outside and having fun,” Ngoette said.

How San Francisco compares nationwide

Kindergarteners in overweight category (95th percentile or more):

SAN FRANCISCO

Boys: 18%

Girls: 20%

UNITED STATES

Boys: 13%

Girls: 15%

Average number of overweight children, nationwide:

Age 2-5: 13.9%

Age 6-11: 18.8%

Age 12-19: 17.4%

<p>Sources: Applied Survey Research, National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

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