While the American Medical Association released a national study of obesity rates Tuesday that shows obesity rates among children have generally remained constant, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has determined obesity rates among Wisconsin third graders have increased by 30 percent over the past five years.

The survey of 2,800 third grade public school students found one in every three third graders in Wisconsin is overweight.

“It is clear we’re not making the progress we should be making when it comes to getting kids fit and active,” American Heart Association spokesperson Chris Klein said in a statement.

Additionally, the state Legislature is considering a bill that would require all students in public schools to receive 30 minutes of physical education each day.

Until 1980, Wisconsin required all elementary students receive daily physical education, according to the Department of Public Instruction. DPI currently requires elementary students get physical education three times per week, DPI spokesperson Eileen Hare said.

“The requirements are very effective,” Hare said. “One of the pushes we have in physical education is called P.E. active minutes. So, in addition to instruction of physical education, we are looking [to make sure] that teachers, through their well-designed lessons, are trying to get 50 to 70 percent of their class time to involve students moving moderately to vigorously.”

The American Cancer Society statement said organizations like the YMCA offer before and after school activities, but there is an increasing need for physical activity during the school day.

The statement also noted studies show a significant decrease in physical activity between ages 9 and 15 and that 70 percent of adolescents who are overweight remain that way through adulthood.

Research has shown children perform better in class and tests when they spend more time doing physical activity, according to a statement from American Cancer Society spokesperson Allison Miller.

University of Wisconsin Health dietitian Cassandra Vanderwall said in an email to The Badger Herald she believes childhood obesity has multiple causes including home food environment, social support in relation to making positive behavior changes, sugar-sweetened beverage intake and the amount of time they spend physically active and watching TV or being on a computer.

“Overall, childhood obesity is a preventable disease state,” Vanderwall said. “Parents, teachers and health care providers all can play a role in promoting a healthy environment at home and in our schools that encourages healthful habits, which can lead to healthy lifestyles for today’s youth.”

The national report released Tuesday said while the overall obesity rate dropped from 13.9 percent to 8.4 percent for children aged 2 to 5, more than one third of adults and 17 percent of kids and teens are obese.

[Photo by Flickr user Port of San Diego]