Nevada’s kindergarteners getting fatter

A report released by UNLV’s Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy revealed some startling statistics recently.

Almost one-third of the state’s kindergarteners are overweight or obese, and according to researchers, this could lead to additional physical and academic problems in their future.

The report based on more than 7,300 surveys was completed by parents in Nevada’s 17 school districts.

Though it did not elaborate on exactly why the obesity rates increased, it did state that children are spending more time on video games and computers.

At least 30 percent of the children in the 2013-2014 research study were overweight, equating to a 1.4 percent increase from last school year.

This week, Nye County’s Health Officer Maureen Budahl said the study confirms what is happening not just in Nevada, but the entire nation.

“It’s no secret that obesity is a problem in the United States. No matter what the ages are, we are an obese nation. In my experience, lack of physical activity, video games and the like, all contribute to this problem,” she said.

Budahl said she believes that many parents are apprehensive about allowing children to venture outdoors more due to safety concerns.

“When I was a kid, we use to go outside and play hide and seek until the street lights came on, but now safety is a huge concern in today’s world. If mom and dad are not out walking, running and playing too, the kids are pretty much confined to a fenced-in backyard and even that is not a good idea in 100-plus degree weather that we see in Southern Nevada this time of year,” she said.

Exercise aside, Budahl said another important factor was the types of foods kids consume on a regular basis.

“Processed food is another area of concern. Sugary beverages is what parents need to reconsider because parents think they are doing a good thing by giving their kids juice, but in reality most juices are mostly high fructose corn syrup,” Budahl said.

Officials with the Nye County School District (NCSD) have taken a proactive approach to encourage healthy eating and physical activities.

The district follows strict health education curriculum standards and guidelines set forth by the Nevada Department of Education.

Students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 receive interactive nutrition education that teaches the skills students need to adopt for healthier eating behaviors.

Teachers too, are encouraged to integrate nutrition education into core curriculum areas such as math, science, social studies, and language arts as applicable.

The district also maintains strict standards when it comes to vending machines on campus at the high school level.

According to the NCSD, regulation foods and beverages sold in student vending machines must adhere to nutrition standards outlined in district policy.

Additionally, proceeds from the sales of food and drinks on school grounds must directly benefit academics, activities or the district’s food service department.

Budahl, meanwhile, noted that some schools across the country are even cutting back on physical education programs, which exacerbates the problem.

“There was a time when parents could always count on their child getting at least a little physical activity and that was a requirement at one time. I think what the first lady is doing as far as urging kids to get out and exercise is a positive step in the right direction with her ‘Let’s Move’ initiative. I would encourage everyone to check out the website. It doesn’t just focus on parent and kids, it targets all parts of the population and it even has guidance for policy makers on a local level to have an impact,” she said.

The health officer also said today’s fast-paced environment allows little time for working parents to actually prepare nutritious meals at home for their kids.

“It’s so much easier to pick up fast food than to go home and cook a meal. If you’re a single parent in today’s world and you are working two jobs, you just don’t have the time or even the energy and I think that’s also part of the overall problem,” she said.

Fortunately, the news in the study was not all doom and gloom.

Researchers found healthier behaviors in other areas as the number of children watching more than three hours of TV each school day is down slightly to 19.4 percent, while the number of children who get less than 30 minutes of exercise three times a week decreased to 17.6 percent.