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Officials critical with many students either under, over weight

By Moneth Deposa SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 17, 2012) – Over a hundred students at Public School System's Head Start program are either overweight or underweight, according to program director Melissa Palacios.

She said a recent height and weight assessment conducted among children revealed that 136 children currently enrolled at the Head Start program are affected by this health concern.

She described the figure as significant based on the program's 462 mandated enrollees this school year.

"We found 136 children in our program who are either underweight or overweight based on the results of the height and weight assessment. So we're now looking at every single classroom to identify who amongst these 136 kids are overweight and underweight so we can start working with them and their families," Palacios told Saipan Tribune.

For the affected children, Palacios vowed to contact and communicate with their parents to inquire what's happening in their homes.

Factors that caused the children to become overweight and underweight, she said, must be identified accordingly so a plan could be set up for immediate resolution.

She said children are provided free meals at the center, all of which are in accordance with the Food and Nutrition Services' guidelines to ensure what they consume are nutritious and healthy.

"But beyond the school hours, we don't know what's happening in their homes. Now that we have these data, our goal is to effectively communicate with the parents and work with them. The program can only do so much for our children, so we need the parental involvement," she said.

According to Palacios, one of the program's key partners-NMC CREES program-has conducted an informal survey among stores and teachers to identify the most saleable items to children. The result, she said, indicated that chips and other junked foods top the most saleable goods to children all over the islands.

The program director believes that with 136 children considered overweight and underweight, the figure is "a major concern" and alarming.

Overweight, she specifically cited, may lead to more pressing health issues in the long term such as obesity and risks associated with it.

"It is a concern for us because we all know that obesity is a major problem among older people and adults. Now we're seeing it in our children. We need to do something and we will start with their parents to find out what these children are consuming at home," she said.

The program director vows to bring progress to the affected children before they transition to kindergarten.

"Our goal is to make sure by the end of the school year, at least our kids leave our program based on the appropriate growth development range [for their age]," she said.

Palacios said the latest data will be shared and tackled among parents and enrollees in the scheduled annual health symposium for Saipan set on Jan. 21.

The same topic was also among the discussions in the recent symposium on Tinian and later, at the Rota health assembly.

The CNMI Head Start is a federally funded program under the Department of Health and Human Services which provides developmental services for low-income children ages 3 to 5 and social services for their families.

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