Children are more obese, nearer-sighted: Study

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Children are more obese, nearer-sighted: Study

Kids are more obese and nearer-sighted than a decade ago, according to a recent study of the health of elementary, middle and high school students.

The obesity rate of elementary, middle and high school students reached nearly 15 percent, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology revealed yesterday in the results of its 2012 study of the health examinations of 87,000 students in 758 elementary, middle and high schools nationwide.

Over the past five years, the obesity rate in students has consistently crept up from 11.2 percent in 2008 to 14.3 percent in 2011 and 14.7 percent last year.

Extreme obesity rates have nearly doubled over a decade from 0.74 percent of students in 2001 to 1.26 percent in 2011.

The ministry classified obesity as those whose weight surpassed the average weight of others of the same height and gender by 20 percent. Extremely obese was defined as those who surpassed the average weight for a given height by gender by 50 percent

Elementary students that lived in rural areas were more likely to be obese than those living in the city, at 15 percent in rural areas compared to 13.9 percent in metropolitan areas. Male students were more likely to be obese than female students, at 16.3 percent compared to 12.9 percent.

The survey indicated that high school students were not eating, sleeping and exercising in a healthy manner.

In the Education Ministry’s survey, 67.7 percent of high school students responded that they eat fast food at least once a week. Less than a quarter responded that they eat vegetables every day. And 11.9 percent of students stated that they skip breakfast.

Only one in five high school students responded that they exercise more than three times a week.

These students are sleep-deprived as well, as 44.7 percent of high school students’ claim they sleep less than six hours a night, far from the physician-recommended eight to nine hours for teens. Some 12 percent of middle schoolers and 4 percent of elementary students also claimed they slept less than six hours per night.

“Obesity generally has deep connections to socioeconomic factors,” said Park Soon-woo, professor of the department of preventative medicine at the Catholic University of Daegu, adding that whether students go to school in rural or metropolitan areas, their household situation and educational environment can be reflected in their obesity level.

But students are also taller than their counterparts a decade ago.

An average sixth grade boy is 150.6 centimeters (five feet), 2 centimeters taller than the age group 10 years ago and 5.3 centimeters taller than 20 years ago. Likewise, a sixth grade boy weighs 46.2 kilograms (102 pounds), on average 2.3 kilograms more than 10 years ago and 7.8 kilograms more than 20 years ago.

Male high school seniors are on average 173.6 centimeters tall and females are 160.9 centimeters tall.

Over the past decade, more students’ eyesight has deteriorated with 42.3 percent of students having poor vision in 2002 to 56 percent last year.

There are more nearsighted students the older they get with 26.2 percent of first graders being nearsighted, 64.4 percent of seventh graders and 70.9 percent of tenth graders.

By Sarah Kim, Chun In-sung [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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