Campus: CSU Chico -- December 14, 2001

CSU Chico Grant to Address Health Hazards of Overweight Children

California State University, Chico, in partnership with a number of public and private entities, has received a $590,000 grant to oversee a program in Butte County for the prevention of unhealthy weight gain in children and the treatment of overweight children. The program is titled OPT (Overweight, Prevention, and Treatment) for Fit Kids.

Data collected over the past five years shows an increase in the number of county children who are in the 95th percentile in weight for their age and height, reflecting a widespread national trend. Overweight children experience health problems that can extend into adulthood.

The Children and Families Commission of Butte County awarded the grant to the university, which has also been awarded partial matching funds from the California Nutrition Network. The program will have more than $700,000 to aid county children for the three-year term of the grant.

The commission is directed to award funds from state tobacco tax money to directly benefit the health of young children.

Faye Johnson, professor in the Nutrition and Food Sciences Program, and Cindy Wolff, coordinator of the program, will oversee the grant implementation. Wolff also wrote and was awarded an initial $40,000 planning grant for the effort to aid overweight children.

Among the partners in the grant are Enloe Medical Center, Butte County Department of Public Health, Butte County WIC, Butte County UC Cooperative Extension, the CA 5 A Day program, and Butte County Head Start. In addition, Michele Brackett, health educator for Butte County's Department of Public Health, has been assigned part-time to the project.

Wolff said diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated blood cholesterol, which are often directly correlated to being overweight, are the chief health concerns. She said very heavy children can exhibit early signs of diabetes, which can lead to cardiovascular and other health problems. Being overweight as a child is a strong predictor of being overweight as an adult, Wolff said.

Diet is one culprit in the increase in overweight children. "More and more families decide it's easier to eat out, and choose high calorie fast food," said Johnson. "Also, with more parents working, children are increasingly responsible for preparing their own meals, resulting in more high-calorie, high-fat meals," she added.

Just as important, however, is the lack of physical activity among many children. Johnson said a decreasing number of children pass the fitness exams given in elementary schools. She said fewer children walking to school, and increasing hours of children playing video games and watching TV, are contributing factors to the change.

The OPT for Fit Kids program has three components: medical nutrition therapy services for overweight children and their families, an educational awareness campaign for the public and nutrition education in schools. Medical nutrition therapy services will be extended after overweight children have been identified and referred by health care practitioners. The families then have the opportunity to speak with a dietitian, attend workshops and obtain related services.

OPT program services are free for children ages 5 and under and for low income children ages 6 and up. Services are available on a sliding scale for all others. The awareness campaign and nutrition education components of the program will educate county residents about childhood health risks associated with being overweight, and about strategies for promoting healthy eating and activity practices.

To help introduce the program, a Pediatric Overweight Symposium was held Dec. 12, at the Enloe Conference Center and was attended by about 80 pediatric health professionals. Dr. Dennis Styne, pediatric endocrinologist from UC Davis, was keynote speaker, presenting information on "Childhood Obesity and its Complications: Facing a New Epidemic." Dr. Mark Lundberg, Health Officer, Butte County Department of Public Health, spoke on "Pediatric Overweight Trends in Butte County," and Professor Wolff spoke on "Using BMI to Assess Pediatric Patients and Local Services Available for Pediatrics in Butte County."

For more information about the program, contact Cindy Wolff at 530-898-6164, Michele Brackett at 530-891-2861 or Faye Johnson at 530-898-6767.

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