One in five county youth are overweight

San Jose
– Hispanic children in Santa Clara County are more likely to be
overweight and less fit, give birth as teens and grow up poor,
according to a study released Tuesday.
San Jose – Hispanic children in Santa Clara County are more likely to be overweight and less fit, give birth as teens and grow up poor, according to a study released Tuesday.

The report, commissioned by the county, also found that more than 20 percent of county youth 19 and younger are overweight and the county ranks 54th out of 58 counties in adolescent self-inflicted injury. In 2004, 9.5 percent of 9th grade students reported having attempted suicide at least once in the previous 12 months.

“There are a number of alarming findings,” said Supervisor Liz Kniss, who has made health the focus of her one-year term as chair of the board of supervisors.

Asians and Pacific Islanders are the fittest group in the county. More than 70 percent of Asian 7th grade children passed at least five of the state’s six fitness standard tests, and the two groups combined are overweight at a rate of 11.8 percent. By comparison, 24 percent of Caucasian children, and 26.4 percent of Hispanic kids, are overweight.

Hispanic children ranked last in nearly all of the 27 categories studied by Kids in Common and the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health. The categories ranged from access to health care and nutrition to substance abuse and school performance.

County officials believe the disproportionate number of Hispanic children living in poverty explains the group’s performance. Hispanic children represent one third of the area’s youth population, but account for 55 percent of the county’s 38,000 children living below the poverty line, which is $18,400 for a family of four.

“It should be of great concern to us all that this valley is marked by a deep divide that separates the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’ Supervisor Blanca Alvarado said.

Alvarado said that government and school agencies, like First 5 of Santa Clara County, which provides support for at-risk children, need to do more to address the inequities. In the fall, First 5 plans to unveil a number of initiatives to improve conditions, including a reading program aimed at third graders.

Bill Green, chairman of Kids in Common, said that teen pregnancies have been declining the last five years, but Hispanic girls are giving birth at rates substantially higher than those of other girls. The county rate of 26 births per 1,000 teens is below a national goal of 43, but Hispanic teenagers are giving birth at a rate of 69 per 1,000. In 1998, the rate was 92 per 1,000.

The increase in the number of kids who are overweight mirrors a national trend. Guadalupe Olivas, director of the public health department said that kids are “victims of large portion sizes, eating too much fast food, drinking too many high-sugar drinks, not having access to healthy food and not enough physical activity.”

The study, Children’s Report: Key Indicators of Well-being 2005, can be viewed at www.sccgov.org.

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