Obesity problem weighs on schools


Staff writer

The percentage of Federal Way children who struggle with their body weight is about in line with a national average that has been called an epidemic of obesity by experts.

According to reports, about 13 percent of American kids –– one in every eight –– are overweight. The percentage has more than doubled since the early 1970s.

More than 20 percent of eighth-graders and about 16 percent of 10th and 12th-graders in Washington are either overweight or at risk of being overweight, according to the Health Youth Survey 2002.

Factors such as media influence and on-the-go life styles are making it harder for kids to stay in shape, said Federal Way Public Schools’ health coordinator, Pat Smithson.

“We try to inform kids about weight and diet without making them self-conscious,” Smithson said. “All of this is individual choice. All we can do is educate.”

She said that at school cafeterias, many students gravitate toward pizza, burgers and fries rather than healthier food. Smithson said schools try to make their food options as nutritious and healthy as possible, but that if they only offered salad, many kids wouldn’t eat at all.

Also, people in general are more on the go than they used to be and are therefore getting more fast food and prepared food. Home-cooked meals are healthier, she said.

Overweight kids are considered at risk for heart disease, stroke, arthritis, hypertension and certain kinds of cancer.

To lose weight, overweight students must add exercise to a healthy diet. Smithson said people need to exercise five times per week, and walking to school or riding a bike counts.

But many more students perceive themselves as overweight than actually are, the statewide health survey reports. In eighth grade, more than 30 percent of students think that they are either slightly or very overweight, and 40 percent of eighth-graders are trying to lose weight. What is more, in a 30-day period, 10 percent went to extreme measures, such as fasting, using weight-loss supplements without a doctor’s advice and vomiting or using laxatives to shed pounds.

Also according to the state survey:

• Of 10th-graders, 32 percent perceive themselves as slightly or very overweight, and 42 percent are trying to lose weight. Almost 13 percent went to the above-mentioned extremes to lose weight in a 30-day period.

• Among 12th-graders, almost 33 percent perceive themselves as slightly or very overweight, and 41 percent are trying to lose weight. And 12 percent went to dieting extremes to lose weight during a 30-day period.

“No one is really satisfied with their body,” Smithson said. But she added that as kids get older, they mature and feel less self-conscious.

Staff writer Kenny Ching: 925-5565

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