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Niagara County's children are too fat and need to get healthy, the organizers of a new countywide task force say.

The Childhood Obesity Task Force, organized by the county Health Department and Cornell Cooperative Extension, held a preliminary organizational session today in the Trott Access Center.

Claudia Kurtzworth, public health educator for the Health Department, said other groups scheduled to participate in the task force include Mount St. Mary's Hospital, the Niagara Wellness Council, Head Start and the Mental Health Association of Niagara County.

"We originally had an obesity task force in Niagara County, sponsored by the Niagara Wellness Council, and we're looking to revitalize this," said Carolyn Richel, nutrition educator at Cooperative Extension.

No countywide statistics are available on childhood obesity, but overall figures from the Centers for Disease Control describe 20 percent of all county residents as obese.

The problem shows up at increasingly younger ages. Kurtzworth said a 2002 study by the Women, Infants and Children program -- the only detailed survey of weight for any young age group in the county -- found 21.9 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds in Niagara Falls were overweight.

"We have seen children as young as 10 years old being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which used to be 'adult-onset' diabetes," Kurtzworth said. "Folks who are obese have a higher incidence of Type 2 diabetes."

She said extra weight alters body chemistry and can lead to diabetes. But the problem can be controlled -- or prevented, if done soon enough -- through healthy diets.

Niagara County's other health problems have been well publicized. The county has the state's highest death rates from heart disease for both men and women, and it has one of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease.

By attacking the issue of weight, Kurtzworth said, "I think we're really going after the foundation of some of these chronic diseases."

"We have many schools and organizations who would have interest in supporting this task force," Paulette M. Kline, the county's public health director, told a County Legislature committee earlier this month.

The task force wants to promote healthy eating through schools and community-based groups, including churches, Kurtzworth said.

The county hasn't allocated any money for the task force, and Kurtzworth said neither has anyone else. She said she's been told a regional grant effort will be made shortly, and the new group may be able to take advantage of it.

"Funding is always an issue, but sometimes you can do a lot with a little," she said. "It's up to us to find the funding."


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