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Study: 1 in 4 CPS kids obese, First Lady in town to address problem

First Lady Michelle ObamChicago last spring

First Lady Michelle Obama in Chicago last spring

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Updated: April 1, 2013 11:50AM

One in four Chicago Public Schools students is obese, with the most overweight youth being in sixth-grade, the largest local study to look at the issue shows.

And Chicago children are still more likely to be obese than children nationwide.

But the data also shows that the percentage of kindergartners who are obese has steadily declined since 2003 and the percentage of obese ninth-graders is less than that of sixth-graders.

First lady Michelle Obama, who has made fighting childhood obesity one of her key goals, is scheduled to appear in Chicago Thursday to highlight some of the changes in Chicago that are expected to further lower obesity in kids.

“The numbers that we’re seeing in kindergarten are really promising and they’re giving us hope that we’re really moving in the right direction,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair said. “But they’re still not where we’d like them to be and that’s why we’ve introduced Healthy CPS.”

Among other things, Healthy CPS is implementing restrictions on foods and beverages sold to students on school grounds with strict limits in areas such as calories per serving, saturated fat and sodium, as well as bringing recess back to elementary school students with the now longer school day.

More broadly, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has worked to diminish Chicago’s food deserts by bringing new grocery stores to neighborhoods that were lacking such stores, investing $4.4 million for neighborhood parks across the city and providing other initiatives to make it easier for kids and adults to eat right and exercise.

“At every level, better lifestyles and better exercise has been a priority,” Emanuel said.

Chicago Department of Public Health researchers based their findings for Thursday’s report on physical exam records for more than 88,000 children in Chicago Public Schools in kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade.

It’s the largest study to look at obesity rates in CPS and the first to also break down the rates by neighborhood.

Overall, obesity was highest among CPS youngsters in the sixth grade (29 percent) and lowest amongst kindergartners (20 percent). About 25 percent of ninth graders were obese.

Two smaller studies done by the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children estimated the rates to be 22 percent for Chicago kindergartners in 2008 and 24 percent in 2003.

But the rates of childhood obesity varied widely, based on where students lived.

Rates were as low as 13 percent for students living in Lincoln Park, home to predominantly high-income white students, compared to 33 percent in South Lawndale, where mostly Hispanic, low-income children live, according to the new study.

“We know that at a national level…that in low income communities, minorities have higher rates of obesity and overweight [problems] and that’s reflected in our data we’ve analyzed,” Choucair said.

Typically, experts say that obese children living in low income neighborhoods may not have information on nutrition, safe areas to play and nearby full service grocery stores.

Overall, childhood obesity has more than tripled over the past three decades nationally — 17 percent of all children and adolescents are obese.

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