Columbus kids face (medical) tests

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Columbus schools will screen students for more health problems after a

district program found that an alarming number of youngsters are overweight.

The district also has started clamping down on junk-food sales. Soda

vending machines in middle and high schools were converted to water-only

last month. And school officials are discussing banning unhealthful foods

from snack machines, an effort that could begin this winter, said Elaine

Bell, executive director for student assistance, intervention and outreach.

Talks are under way to limit cupcakes and other sweets at

elementary-school fundraisers and parties.

Nearly one in four preschoolers whose body-mass index were checked last

spring was found to be overweight, as defined by the federal Centers for

Disease Control and Prevention.

The problem got worse with age. About 44 percent of the district's 4,067

fifth-graders weighed too much.

The screening results "are very shocking," said Dr. Robert Murray of

Nationwide Children's Hospital. "We used to think about these kinds of

changes in 40-year-olds. We never expected to see it in 8- and 9-year-old

children."

The BMI screenings will be expanded to all seventh- and ninth-graders

this year, district administrators said. Students in three schools will

receive non-invasive assessments for high insulin levels, a risk factor for

diabetes. The district has not decided which schools.

The number of Columbus students with diabetes has been skyrocketing,

from eight in 2000 to nearly 180 this year, according to the district.

Obesity is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, the more common form of

the disease. Type 1 diabetes is thought to be linked to genetics or an

autoimmune disorder.

Murray is helping the district begin screenings for acanthosis

nigricans, a darkening and coarsening of skin around the neck that can stem

from high insulin levels.

The CDC strongly discourages schools from using acanthosis screenings.

The agency cites a lack of scientific standards to identify acanthosis and

warns that students with the skin problem could be stigmatized.

"CDC scientists believe that it is not ethical or cost-effective to mass

screen children for AN," the agency's position statement reads.

Murray acknowledges the lack of evidence but said the screenings could

help alert parents and doctors to a possible problem.

"The future risk of health problems is hidden unless someone goes and

looks for it," Murray said. He said acanthosis also can show a risk for

developing hypertension and high cholesterol.

Letters will be sent to parents whose children's BMI or acanthosis

screenings raise red flags, district administrators said.

This fall, United Way of Central Ohio, which is funding the preschool

BMI screenings, will begin hosting community workshops on improving

children's nutrition and physical activity, focusing on parents of children

with high BMIs, said Michelle Vander Stouw, United Way's senior impact

director for strengthening individuals and families.

Columbus Health Commissioner Dr. Teresa C. Long blamed the childhood

obesity problem on an increasingly sedentary and busy lifestyle that has led

to dependence on high-calorie, low-nutrient food. The rate of diabetes in

Columbus far outpaces that of the nation, she said.

She said more steps are being taken to attack the local problem,

including adding sidewalks and bike trails. Children are a good target for

intervention because it is easier to improve their health and habits, Long

said.

"We need to try and change our community's culture," she said. "The life

expectancy of our children is predicted to be less than their parents'

directly because of this issue. That should be a call to arms."

Volunteers to offer kids safe havens

Signs will identify homes near Union County schools that can offer help