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Kids' Rising Obesity Rates Due to Bad Habits, Not Genes: Study

THURSDAY, Feb. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Poor eating and activity habits, not genetics, are the underlying causes for most cases of adolescent obesity, new research suggests.

The finding stems from an analysis involving more than 1,000 Michigan sixth-grade students who participated in the Project Healthy Schools program, which is in place in 13 middle schools across the state.

"For the extremely overweight child, genetic screening may be a consideration," study senior author Dr. Kim A. Eagle, a cardiologist and a director of the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center in Ann Arbor, said in a center news release.

"For the rest, increasing physical activity, reducing recreational screen time and improving the nutritional value of school lunches offers great promise to begin a reversal of current childhood obesity trends."

The study findings were published in a recent issue of the American Heart Journal.

The authors noted that, in 1980, just 6.5 percent of U.S. children aged 6 to 11 years were considered obese, but that percentage rose to nearly 20 percent by 2008.

The recent study found that 15 percent of the participants were obese. And almost all had poor eating habits.

Nearly one-third of all the students said they drank a soda the day before, while fewer than half said they could recall having eaten two portions of fruits and vegetables in the same time frame.

And while 34 percent of non-obese kids consumed lunches provided by their school, that figure rose to 45 percent among obese students.

Only one-third of all the kids reported exercising a half hour for five days during the previous week. Obese children were much less likely than non-obese kids to participate in regular exercise and/or physical education classes, and less likely to be a part of a sports team.

Among obese children, 58 percent reported watching two hours of TV in the past day. That compared with 41 percent of non-obese kids.

The finding comes against the backdrop of the recent enactment of the federal government's new "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010," which is designed to foster healthier school menus for the nation's 31 million children currently receiving lunch through school-based programs.

More information

For more on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, visit the White House Web site.

-- Alan Mozes

SOURCE: University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center, news release, Jan. 31, 2011

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