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Childhood Obesity Drops Significantly In New York City Schools

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Instances of childhood obesity has significantly decreased among New York City public schools over the last five years, though one in five elementary and middle school student is still considered obese, new data shows.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, significant decreases were seen in children across all age groups as well as socioeconomic and racial populations. The drops are the largest negative change in childhood obesity reported by any major city in the country.

Still, the change was less among black and Hispanic students as compared to Asian/Pacific Islander and white children.

"Despite the decreases in obesity, continued public health interventions are needed to further reduce the prevalence of obesity and to eliminate disparities among schoolchildren in New York City," CDC researchers write in this week's issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. "Nevertheless, the trend toward reduced prevalence of obesity is encouraging."

Researchers found that the obesity rate for New York City public school students in kindergarten through 8th grade dropped from 21.9 percent in the 2006-2007 school year to 20.7 percent in the 2010-2011 school year.

The decrease was greatest among kindergartners, falling from 20.2 percent to 18.2 percent over the same period.

About 17 percent -- 12.5 million -- of the nation's children and adolescents aged 2-19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The tide of the obesity epidemic is beginning to ebb," Thomas Farley, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, one of the agencies involved in the research, told Bloomberg. "We see this as validation that our public health efforts to address the obesity epidemic are beginning to work."

Between 2003 and 2009, New York City implemented a series of measures aimed at fighting childhood obesity, such as limiting time in front of televisions and computer screens, offering more permits for street vendors who sell fresh produce in low-income neighborhoods and increasing physical activity time, to name a few.

Still the CDC researchers note that their research did not directly analyze the reason for the drop in obesity among the city's schoolchildren, and "a causal relationship cannot be inferred between BMI and fitness interventions implemented by New York City in schools and the decrease in prevalence of child obesity described in this report."

"The uneven gains among minorities and those with lower incomes highlight the need for further targeted measures to reduce childhood obesity," the researchers add.

In California, just one in three students earned a "healthy" score on the state's physical-fitness test, according to data released in March.

And in Florida, a lawmaker is proposing a bill to eliminate a requirement that the state's 6th through 8th graders must take one semester of physical education each year.

The bill comes in stark contrast to changes to Chicago Public Schools, where the district has lengthened school days by 90 minutes, creating up to 200 jobs for gym teachers and allowing for a shuffling of health, driver's education and other electives that were once offered in lieu of gym classes for the city's 11th and 12th graders.

Prior, Chicago schools -- much like what Florida middle schoolers would experience if that bill passes -- could waive state requirements for physical education among 11th and 12th graders, a move that CPS officials told the Chicago Sun-Times was necessary to ensure juniors and seniors have every opportunity to fulfill credits and requirements necessary for graduation.

And across the Atlantic, sports medicine specialists are calling for mandatory "physical literacy" tests in schools -- alongside reading and math, BBC reports. The groups say that such assessments would help children understand nutrition and fitness and identify health problems.

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