Parents of Richmond County third-graders can register their children to take part in an obesity prevention study during registration for the 2003-04 school year.
This year, 18 of Richmond County's 37 elementary schools will conduct the FitKid Project, a study done by researchers at the Medical College of Georgia, said Stacey Mabray, the science, health and physical education curriculum director for Richmond County schools.
Between 500 and 600 pupils will participate in the three-year study, which looks at what effects after-school activities can have on health. Twenty-five to 30 pupils from each school will be part of the study, said Bernard Gutin, a project coordinator.
The study hopes to prove that "a fitogenic environment that encourages vigorous activities and good snacks is likely to increase health," Dr. Gutin said.
"In a global epidemic of childhood obesity, we want to try and prevent the children from becoming obese," he said.
About 15 percent of American children and adolescents are either obese or overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site.
Dr. Gutin said obese children face obstacles such as increased risk of tupe 2 diabetes, teasing and discrimination in job placement and college admissions.
He said today's children are raised in environments that encourage obesity. These problems are especially bad in poorer neighborhoods, where children are discouraged from going outside to play and have ready access to unhealthy snacks that often cost less than healthier alternatives, Dr. Gutin said.
Starting Aug. 26, all pupils registered in the program will be tested by FitKid researchers in the program's mobile testing unit. The children will be tested for body fat composition, cholesterol level and blood pressure.
Children attending nine of the 18 schools also will take part in a two-hour after-school program five days a week. Members of the group are given nutritious snacks and homework help during the first 40 minutes, then exercise for the remaining 80 minutes, said Zenong Yin, a professor of pediatrics at MCG.
The program and testing will continue as the participants move on to fourth and fifth grades.
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