Wednesday, June 22, 2011 | 3:23 p.m.
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More than a third of Nevada children are obese and 44 percent have a cavity by the time they enter kindergarten, according to a UNLV report released Wednesday.
Since 2008, researchers at UNLV’s Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy have surveyed the 17 school districts for demographic and health information to give state leaders detailed information to guide funding and policy decisions, said Tara Phebus, the institute’s associate director.
“The idea is to gauge the health status of children as they are entering the public school system,” Phebus, one of the study’s co-authors, said. “We know how a lower health status impacts student achievement. So taking a look at how 34 percent of kindergartners — kids around age 5 — are either overweight or obese, it’s a pretty significant amount.”
Phebus attributed the rise in childhood obesity across the country to a combination of factors, such as a decrease in physical activity and an increase in unhealthy food available to children.
“We’re seeing these things manifest at a younger age, which is what’s really scary,” she said, adding that the level of childhood obesity in Nevada has remained steady for the past three years.
More than 24,000 parents statewide were given the 27-question survey in the fall. Information was gathered on insurance status, routine care, immunizations, access to care, mental care and healthy behaviors. UNLV researchers received about 10,500 surveys back, for a response rate of 44 percent.
Some of the survey’s major findings include:
• Household income: Researchers found that more families are earning less compared with the previous two years of the study with 35 percent reporting an annual household income of less than $25,000 and 57 percent reporting an annual household income of less than $45,000.
• Insurance status: 16 percent of children entering kindergarten have no health insurance coverage. This is a slight improvement from earlier studies that showed 19 percent of kindergartners had no health insurance. Most children — 39 percent — had private health insurance, but reliance on public health insurance has grown over the past two years with 29 percent of children on either Medicaid or Nevada Check Up. Hispanic children were found least likely to have health insurance — 54 percent are uninsured.
• Barriers to health care: 80 percent of survey respondents indicated they had not experienced barriers to accessing health care. However, of the 20 percent who said they did, the majority said they had difficulty because of either a “lack of insurance” or “lack of money” for health care. Researchers noted a disproportionate percentage were Hispanic at 40 percent.
• Routine checkups: The majority of respondents — more than 80 percent — reported having a primary-care provider and a routine checkup last year. However, a growing number of uninsured children with minor, nonlife-threatening conditions have gone to the emergency room for health care, researchers said. Twenty-nine percent of kindergartners have not seen a dentist in the last year, which is a slight decrease from the first year of the study.
• Health status: Of respondents, 48 percent of kindergartners had a healthy weight, but 34 percent were considered either overweight or obese. Twenty-three percent of kindergartners have a medical condition requiring special treatment.
The majority of the survey respondents — 65 percent — were from Clark County, which is not surprising because about two-thirds of the state’s population lives in Southern Nevada, Phebus said. Clark County’s results were not that much different from the state results, Phebus added.
The Clark County School District has participated in the study since its inception. In the first year, questionnaires were distributed to all the elementary schools in the district, but in the past two years, researchers used a stratified random sample of about 140 schools to calculate its results.