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Connecticut's Obesity Rates Among Poor, Young Children Among Highest In Country

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Young children from poor Connecticut homes often struggle with obesity. In fact, according to federal data, the percentage of obese children in New England is higher than any other region in the country.

Many poor, preschool-aged children and their mothers get federal food aid, and nearly one in six of these kids is considered obese. This is one of highest rates in the country. It's about the same as New Jersey, and it's worse than just about every southern state, a region that's often associated with high childhood obesity.

"It does surprise me a little bit that Connecticut would be in the upper third of states on obesity," said Linda Goodman, acting commissioner of the state's Office of Early Childhood, which regulates childcare providers.

As more and more parents turn to childcare centers to watch their children during the workday, they're becoming places that some say could help tackle this problem.

Goodman's office doesn't administer federal food aid, but it does set nutritional standards for the childcare centers she oversees. She said she recognizes the obesity problem, but she's concerned about forcing certain foods onto parents and kids.

"In many centers, parents send in lunch or snacks with their children, and I don't think anyone wants to see the state regulating what families choose to feed their children," she said.

Her role, she says, is to promote physical activity and health eating, not enforce it.

And the state has improved somewhat here. In 2004, Connecticut had the eighth highest rate of obesity among two- to four-year-olds receiving food aid. By 2014, it had moved down to 12th. But more needs to be done, said Judith Meyers, president of the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut. 

"Other states are still doing even better than Connecticut is," said Meyers, whose office published a report on what can be done about this obesity problem. "I think where we see opportunities are in the early care and education settings."

Connecticut is currently updating its childcare licensing standards. These will be available for public comment once a draft is finished sometime this year.

Commissioner Goodman said there will be some nutritional standards in there, but cautions that this information changes constantly, making it difficult to figure out what's best for everyone.

David finds and tells stories about education and learning for WNPR radio and its website. He also teaches journalism and media literacy to high school students, and he starts the year with the lesson: “Conflicts of interest: Real or perceived? Both matter.” He thinks he has a sense of humor, and he also finds writing in the third person awkward, but he does it anyway.

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