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Over one-third of Mass. students are overweight

Associated Press | 9/14/2010, 7:08 p.m.

More than one-third of the students in 80 Massachusetts school districts are overweight or obese according to a report released last week by state public health officials.

The study of more than 100,000 students by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that 17.3 percent were obese and 16.9 percent were overweight.

The study measured students in the first, fourth, seventh and 10th grades. In all four grade levels measured, more boys were overweight or obese than girls.

Dr. Lauren Smith, the medical director for the state’s public health department, said children who are overweight or obese are at increased risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

“This is snapshot of what is happening now so people can think about ways to prevent the situation of kids having problems later,” Smith said.

She said the state hopes that community leaders will work together to craft plans to promote healthy eating and exercise habits for children.

The percentage of students overweight or obese ranged from a low of 9.6 percent in Arlington to a high of 46.6 percent in Lawrence. Many urban districts had much higher rates of overweight and obese children than suburban districts.

“Some children in urban areas do not have time in school to exercise when it is safe, and parents may not want them outside after school when it is not safe,” said Dr. Alice Coombs, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Coombs said the results also demonstrate a difference between communities based on income levels, with some poorer families not having the ability to purchase healthier food.

Overall, only 2.5 percent of students fell into the underweight category.

The study was part of the state’s “Mass in Motion” initiative which tries to promote wellness and prevent obesity in Massachusetts by supporting healthy eating and physical activity.

Earlier this year, Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill requiring schools to adhere to nutritional guidelines for foods and beverages sold to students outside of the federal meal program.

The guidelines, which also apply to food and drinks sold in school vending machines, will be developed by state public health officials.

Associated Press