Los Angeles elementary school students from low-income backgrounds have severe nutritional problems, a new report reveals.

In a study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition about overweight conditions in urban, low-income African American and Hispanic children attending Los Angeles Unified School District elementary schools, authors established the prevalence and severity of nutritional problems among low-income children in Los Angeles schools.

Authors claim the study is the first comprehensive study regarding the food situation and nutritional status of multi-grade children of elementary school age in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the nation.

According to Dr. Wendelin M. Slusser, a Venice Family Clinic staff pediatrician, UCLA Schools of Medicine and Public Health assistant clinic professor, and lead author of the study:

“Overweight children not only suffer from negative psychosocial repercussions from their peers, sleep apnea and orthopedic complications, but older overweight children and adolescents are now also presenting with type II diabetes mellitus and hypertension, diseases normally seen in the obese adult.”

The study measured and interviewed 919 children in 14 elementary schools and found that more than 35 percent of the sample was classified at being at risk for overweight.

The racial and ethnic mix of the children participating in the study reflected the overall student body of the 14 schools.

The racial and ethnic groups with the highest percentage of obesity are African Americans (46.5 percent) and Hispanics (41.2 percent).

These rates are considerably higher than those found in national surveys, which had rates for Hispanics at 28.7 percent and African Americans at 20.1 percent.

Because children of elementary school age in the lower socioeconomic groups eat the majority of their meals at school, Slusser and her colleagues have been instrumental in developing with Los Angeles Unified School District policy-makers pilot projects to help solve this nutritional problem.

Among recommendations are a salad bar lunch menu option and enhancement of physical activity programs through the in-service training of classroom teachers.

But Slusser says that much must still be done.

“Designing a primary obesity prevention school-based program plus parent education is a practical and necessary solution to the complex problem of obesity,” Slusser says.

Slusser hopes that, as more media attention is given to practical solutions within the schools, progress will be made and all of society will benefit.