Columbus schools will screen students for more health problems after a
district program found that an alarming number of youngsters are overweight.

The district also has started clamping down on junk-food sales. Soda
vending machines in middle and high schools were converted to water-only
last month. And school officials are discussing banning unhealthful foods
from snack machines, an effort that could begin this winter, said Elaine
Bell, executive director for student assistance, intervention and outreach.

Talks are under way to limit cupcakes and other sweets at
elementary-school fundraisers and parties.

Nearly one in four preschoolers whose body-mass index were checked last
spring was found to be overweight, as defined by the federal Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.

The problem got worse with age. About 44 percent of the district's 4,067
fifth-graders weighed too much.

The screening results "are very shocking," said Dr. Robert Murray of

Nationwide Children's Hospital. "We used to think about these kinds of
changes in 40-year-olds. We never expected to see it in 8- and 9-year-old

The BMI screenings will be expanded to all seventh- and ninth-graders
this year, district administrators said. Students in three schools will
receive non-invasive assessments for high insulin levels, a risk factor for
diabetes. The district has not decided which schools.

The number of Columbus students with diabetes has been skyrocketing,
from eight in 2000 to nearly 180 this year, according to the district.

Obesity is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, the more common form of
the disease. Type 1 diabetes is thought to be linked to genetics or an
autoimmune disorder.

Murray is helping the district begin screenings for acanthosis
nigricans, a darkening and coarsening of skin around the neck that can stem
from high insulin levels.

The CDC strongly discourages schools from using acanthosis screenings.
The agency cites a lack of scientific standards to identify acanthosis and
warns that students with the skin problem could be stigmatized.

"CDC scientists believe that it is not ethical or cost-effective to mass
screen children for AN," the agency's position statement reads.

Murray acknowledges the lack of evidence but said the screenings could
help alert parents and doctors to a possible problem.

"The future risk of health problems is hidden unless someone goes and
looks for it," Murray said. He said acanthosis also can show a risk for
developing hypertension and high cholesterol.

Letters will be sent to parents whose children's BMI or acanthosis
screenings raise red flags, district administrators said.

This fall, United Way of Central Ohio, which is funding the preschool
BMI screenings, will begin hosting community workshops on improving
children's nutrition and physical activity, focusing on parents of children
with high BMIs, said Michelle Vander Stouw, United Way's senior impact
director for strengthening individuals and families.

Columbus Health Commissioner Dr. Teresa C. Long blamed the childhood
obesity problem on an increasingly sedentary and busy lifestyle that has led
to dependence on high-calorie, low-nutrient food. The rate of diabetes in
Columbus far outpaces that of the nation, she said.

She said more steps are being taken to attack the local problem,
including adding sidewalks and bike trails. Children are a good target for
intervention because it is easier to improve their health and habits, Long

"We need to try and change our community's culture," she said. "The life
expectancy of our children is predicted to be less than their parents'
directly because of this issue. That should be a call to arms."

Volunteers to offer kids safe havens
Signs will identify homes near Union County schools that can offer help