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Report: Growing number of Sonoma County children overweight

  • Fifth-grader Gianna Lowry tumbles on a mat while her classmate Carissa Contreras, left, watches during their physical education class at Brooks Elementary School in Windsor, on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. Brooks fared better than most Sonoma County schools in fitness levels. ((Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat))

A growing number of Sonoma County school children are dangerously overweight, a trend that poses a threat to the county's long-term health and fiscal well-being.

More than one in three fifth graders in Sonoma County is considered high risk in body composition, a measure of body fat. Among seventh graders, 30 percent of kids are considered high risk and 23 percent of ninth graders fall into that category.

The results for Latino fifth, seventh and eighth graders is even more stark. Forty-five percent of fifth graders are considered high risk, while 39 percent of seventh and 30 percent of ninth graders are in the same category.

Students from low-income families also fare worse than the general student population in Sonoma County.

“Part of this is a reflection of the obesity epidemic in the United States. Sonoma County is not immune,” said Dr. Lynn Silver-Chalfin, the county's public health officer.

The numbers have grown sharply over the last 15 years, according to a Press Democrat analysis of data collected annually at each school in Sonoma County.

The data comes from a series of statewide physical fitness tests that record body composition, aerobic capacity and four other fitness markers required by the California Department of Education.

Approximately 1.3 million fifth, seventh and ninth graders across the state were given the physical fitness tests last year.

Tests include aerobic strength during a mile run or walking test; body fat measurement; sit-ups; trunk strength and flexibility; upper body strength in push-ups and pull-ups; and flexibility.

While students' aerobic capacity has fluctuated since 1999 — the earliest data available from the state — the percentage of kids with unhealthy body composition has skyrocketed across the board.

In Sonoma County, only 25 percent of fifth graders posted healthy scores in all six categories. Seventh graders fared slightly better, with 28 percent registering healthy in all six categories. Ninth graders did slightly better still, with 32 percent passing all six tests.

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