Teaching younsters about healthy food to combat childhood obesity. Photo courtesy San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative

A study released Monday found that nearly 35% of children public-school children in San Diego County are obese or overweight.

The report, by the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative, focused on children in fifth, seventh and ninth grades. The group conducted the study using data from the 2017-18 school year offered by the California Department of Education.

Researchers found 34% of students in the examined grades to be overweight or obese.

The county had a lower obesity rate than California’s 39%. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimated a rate of of 40.7% for youths aged 2-19 in 2015-2016.

The study found worse rates of obesity based on demographics. Researchers classified almost a quarter of white students as obese, compared to 49% for native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders and 43% of Latinos.

In addition, 42% of students facing socioeconomic disadvantages were found to be obese or overweight. Those factors included homelessness, stays in foster care, meal scarcity and having parents without high school diplomas.

Without facing those challenges, 24% of students suffered from being overweight or obese.

“Childhood obesity remains a pervasive challenge, and sadly current rates have not changed much from the previous report released for the 2014-2015 school year,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer.

Locally, higher levels of obesity roughly correlated with poverty-stricken census tracts. In these areas, larger shares of the population had incomes of 200% of the federal poverty level or less.

School districts with more students in the federal Reduced Price Meals Program tended to have higher rates of obesity.

“Families struggling to make ends meet must often sacrifice buying healthy food for cheaper, nutrient-poor options that are filling, but high in calories, fat and sugar,” said San Diego Hunger Coalition Executive Director Anahid Brakke.

The Childhood Obesity Initiative and the YMCA of San Diego County plan to address childhood obesity by promoting the “5-2-1-0 Every Day!” campaign. It encourages children to eat better food and be more active.

All county YMCA branches will host free open houses Saturday offering more information and guidance on how to obtain financial help with YMCA memberships.

– City News Service

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