Obesity in US youth a growing problem

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The Independent Online
JUNK FOOD, poor access to fresh meat, fruit and vegetables and inadequate education about what it takes to keep a child healthy: these are some of the factors that have led to an epidemic of obesity across the United States, and in children in particular.

According to one estimate, up to one American child in every five is overweight. The statistics vary considerably according to region and socio-economic group.

Relatively few children living in affluent communities on the East and West coasts, where a wide variety of food is available and health consciousness is greater, suffer from the problem, while it is far more prevalent in the great swathes of Middle America in the Midwest and South.

In recent years, summer camps where children can lose weight have become increasingly popular. One well-known location, Camp Shane in the Catskill Mountains of upper New York State, offers a three-week course for just over $2,000 (pounds 1,200), or a nine-week course for just under $5,000.

The camp claims to teach children "how to eat healthfully" and lose 10 to 15 pounds over the course of the training programme. These courses are targeted at richer children who, statistically tend to suffer from the opposite syndrome.

Medical studies have shown that excessive concern about healthy eating, leading to low-calorie diets and an insistence on low- or no-fat products, has in fact caused malnutrition in some better-off families. Across much of the country, however, supermarkets offer foods that have been over- processed and - especially in the cake, chocolate and ice-cream aisles - that are high in cholesterol, fat and sugar without many redeeming nutrients.