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Obesity biggest risk to kids says poll { March 31 2004 }

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Article Last Updated: Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - 3:27:30 AM PST
Californians: Obesity biggest risk to kids
By Rebecca Vesely, STAFF WRITER

Californians see obesity as a bigger risk to children than unsafe sex or drug or alcohol use, and want schools and lawmakers to do something about it, according to a Field Research poll released today.

About 92 percent said childhood obesity is a serious problem, and eight in 10 said the epidemic has grown over the past five years. In contrast, half of those surveyed saw unsafe sex and drug or alcohol use as a serious problem facing youth.

"It's clear that childhood obesity is becoming a hot-button policy issue for Californians and that they expect their leaders to address this crisis," said study director Mark DiCamillo, senior vice president of the Field Research Corp.

Obesity rates among California teens have tripled over the past two decades, and a quarter of children are now overweight.

The vast majority of the public sees the epidemic as a community issue -- not just a problem to be handled inside the home, according to the poll.

Among Bay Area residents, 49 percent said their neighborhoods were very poor, poor or fair places to get healthy foods -- about on par with statewide figures. African Americans were most likely to say this.

Ninety-six percent of Californians said they want better enforcement of school requirements that teach students about nutrition and physical education. And 92 percent said physical education should be required through high school.

California law requires a minimum number of hours of physical education in public schools but many children aren't participating because of budget cuts, poor facilities and lax enforcement.

Meanwhile, children are flunking basic fitness requirements. Three-fourths of youth in grades five, seven and nine failed the state's physical fitness test in 2003. More than one-quarter of those students were overweight, according to state figures.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is revising nutrition labeling on packaged foods to make data on calories and fat more prominent. The agency is encouraging restaurants to post such information, but the practice is strictly voluntary.>

Californians are divided over outright bans. Two in three people said advertising contributes greatly to the problem of childhood obesity, and yet nearly half said they oppose a ban on junk-food TV ads aimed at children.

Parents, women and Latinos were more inclined to support a ban on junk food advertising aimed at children.

Latinos were most supportive of a soda tax whose proceeds would go toward fighting childhood obesity, with three-fourths supporting the tax.

/creditContact Rebecca Vesely at

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