Jan. 12, 2006 -- Nearly four in 10 Arkansas students are overweight, according to a report issued by the state's first-in-the-nation comprehensive childhood obesity testing program.
Figures reported Thursday show that 38.1% of Arkansas' public school students are in danger of obesity. Minority children were at higher-than-average risk, with 41.2% of blacks and 47% of Hispanics measured as overweight.
The report stems from a 2003 state law that required annual weight testing for all of the state's more than 450,000 public school students. Lawmakers passed the initiative as a way to respond to obesity rates that were well above the national average for the state.
State Push for Better Health
Gov. Mike Huckabee backed the legislation as part of an overall push on public health in the state. It included the governor touting his own 110-pound weight loss across the state and in the national media.
The state uses testing to report back to parents on their kids' weight and to offer advice on healthy diet and exercise.
The law also included a ban on vending machines in elementary schools and forced schools to disclose lucrative "pouring contracts" in which beverage companies pay money in exchange for exclusive soft drink advertising and selling rights in schools.
The two-year-old law has not yet led to a drop in the rate of overweight children. But Joe Thompson, MD, the state's chief health officer, tells WebMD that officials are encouraged by data showing that rates did not rise between 2004 and 2005.
"Many parents did not recognize that their child had a health risk, so that has value," Thompson says. "No other state is doing what Arkansas is doing."
Obesity Rate Beats National Average
Thursday's numbers suggest overweight rates in Arkansas well above the national average. Approximately 31% of U.S. children between 6 and 19 were reported as overweight or at risk of becoming overweight between 1999 and 2002, according to the CDC.
But the difference between the numbers could also reflect a more rapid rise over the last five years than researchers had previously expected, says Thompson, who is also an associate professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
The CDC reports that overweight adolescents run a 70% chance or remaining overweight in adulthood.