FLAGSTAFF, AZ - The Flagstaff school district is getting ready to send letters to the parents of elementary school children who are overweight or headed in that direction.
"These are serious, serious problems going on inside of these children now, and we have to do drastic things to make them better," Pediatrician Nina Souders told the Flagstaff Unified School District board last week.
Flagstaff physicians and nurses are reporting obesity-related diabetes in children as young as age 4.
The school district's top nurse estimates about 50 percent of the district's elementary school students will be classified as overweight or bordering on overweight.
"They hand out condoms in school, I don't see a big difference in telling someone they are overweight," a Valley mother told us Sunday.
Elementary school students will be weighed and measured this fall with help from Flagstaff Medical Center's Fit Kids staff and North Country HealthCare, according to Souders.
The nonprofit groups will target education efforts, particularly to schools with more students with severe weight problems.
Letters will go to parents of students who are underweight, overweight or marginally overweight, and will include graphs showing a range of weights for a given age and height, said Souders.
School district Superintendent Barbara Hickman said the educators will recommend good nutrition, exercise and a visit to a physician, but it's up to parents to decide what they want to do.
Hickman also expects calls from displeased parents.
"This is an emotional subject," she said. "It brings up difficult issues and parents can be a little bit offended sometimes."
However, Hickman said the district needs to raise the issue.
"Given the effect this has on the long-term health of our kids, once we know about it, we have to say something," she said.
Board member Chris Bavasi asked about adding more physical education time to the school week, but officials said that given academic requirements, that would be unlikely unless the school day were lengthened.
Elementary, middle and high school students in Flagstaff take physical education, but it's not required daily.
Health classes cover nutrition but also other topics such as bullying or sexual health, Hickman said.