ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The prevalence of childhood obesity in New Mexico appears to be leveling off, but New Mexico health officials said Wednesday that they are concerned about a trend developing between kindergarten and third grade.
Data collected by the state Health Department shows an increase in childhood obesity between the two grades. More than 14 percent of kindergartners and more than one-fifth of third-graders in New Mexico were obese in 2012. The data shows there a greater proportion of third-graders who were obese rather than overweight.
The data also shows significantly more American Indian children in New Mexico have to deal with obesity than any other racial or ethnic groups. In 2012, 1 in 2 American Indian third-graders was either overweight or obese.
Nearly 40 percent of Hispanic third-graders and more than 26 percent of white students were either overweight or obese, according to the department's statistics.
Health Secretary Retta Ward said part of the solution involves change.
"We need to set better examples by eating more fruits and vegetables and getting off the couch and being active, whether it's playing a sport or just getting out to a playground," she said in a statement.
The department is using a federal grant to target prevention strategies across 10 counties and four tribal communities. Through the effort, some school districts have started buying locally grown fruits and vegetables for school meals. Some communities are also establishing gardens and building biking and walking paths.
In McKinley County, which borders the Navajo Nation and includes Zuni Pueblo, students can now choose between traditional hot lunches and salads. The school district serves about 1,300 salads a week in its elementary schools.
In eastern New Mexico, some freshman at Clovis High School will be building a campus greenhouse, planting vegetables and developing a farmer's market to sell produce as part of their science education.
State health officials started tracking the prevalence of childhood obesity in 2010 by calculating students' body mass index, which is based on weight and height measurements. In 2012, data was collected on more than 3,900 kindergartners and third-graders in 32 randomly selected public schools.
Officials said more data will help better define trends in the state over time.