As soon as elementary students from Public School 14 in Corona exited the school, three women selling sugary frozen ices awaited them outside, along with their parents.
Ramon Flores, 49, was among those parents waiting for his children, Jason, 9 and Jeffrey, 10. The father of four said his son Jason is the heaviest out of all of them, but he would not call him obese.
“He is a little bit overweight,” said Flores, who lives in Corona, which has the highest number of children who are overweight or obese in the city, “but he is not obese.”
But according to a new study by New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), many parents are unaware that their children are overweight or obese. The study found that when parents are questioned about their 6 to 12-year-old children, they report that 18 percent of their kids are slightly or very overweight. Yet, DOHMH found that about 40 percent of the city’s public school children are in fact overweight or obese.
“Obesity is a serious, widespread condition plaguing children,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “It increases the risk of diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and high cholesterol – all potentially lifelong health problems – as well as heart disease and cancer during adulthood. It is critical that we protect children now, by creating environments that foster good nutrition and plenty of physical activity.”
The NYC FITNESSGRAM, a tool the city’s Department of Education uses to record height, weight and fitness measures among New York City school children each year, found Hispanic children suffer the highest rates (46 percent), followed by black children (40 percent), white children (34 percent) and Asian children (31 percent). The problem is also more common among boys (43 percent) than girls (38 percent).
The new data underscores the need for individual and community efforts to get children moving and to improve their diets. That’s exactly what Flores is trying to do. Flores, who is a professional cook, said he doesn’t let his children eat late or eat McDonald’s or Chinese food because they are too greasy.
“He (Jason) likes it, but I don’t buy it for him,” Flores said.
On top of that, Flores said his two sons, including Jason, are on a baseball team to keep them physically active and in shape.
Patrick Pinchinat, director of the Queens Community House’s Beacon Program at M.S. 190 in Forest Hills, said over 100 children participate in the after-school activities at M.S. 190. The kids choose from basketball, soccer and dance classes. Pinchinat said they also provide children with nutritional snacks like vegetables, fruits and sandwiches.
“We have even had young people who were part of the program, who trimmed down after several months of doing physical activities,” Pinchinat said.
He said the child obesity problem could be curbed if there were more free recreational programs for parents to choose from.
“I think sometimes parents don’t know,” Pinchinat said, “and others don’t care that their children are obese.”
• Dump the sugary drinks. Sugary beverages such as soda, sports drinks and sweet teas contribute to childhood obesity. Fruit juice is also high in sugar, so serve it in small glasses. Tap water, low-fat milk and seltzer are all good choices for kids.
• Cut back on the fast food. If you do buy fast food, choose options with lower calorie counts.
• Make sure your children get at least an hour of physical activity per day. Options include walking, biking, dancing, playing basketball, and swimming – whatever they like that keeps them moving.
• Turn off the TV and the computer. Limit screen time to an hour a day.
• Talk to a health care provider. Find how to help your child maintain a healthy weight.