Arkansas has unveiled new body-mass index numbers that can be used to assess childhood obesity.
Three years ago Rhonda Sanders received an eye-opening letter from her daughter's school which revealed that her daughter at age 10, 5-foot, and 137-pounds was heavier than 98 percent of her peers.
Last year after following a regimen which included jumping rope in the backyard, substituting soda for bottled water and eating more fruit Sanders' daughter now 5-6 , has dropped 17 pounds and now weighed 120 pounds.
"There was something about getting that letter that changed us," Sanders said Wednesday.
This year the percentage of Arkansas schoolchildren who were overweight or at risk of becoming overweight has reduced to 37.5 percent from 38.1 percent three years ago. This was an estimate covering 371,082 of Arkansas' 450,000 public school children.
Gov. Mike Huckabee said, "The runaway train has been stopped in Arkansas. This train was moving with extraordinary momentum downhill, and it appeared (there) would be little we could do to slow it."
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Arkansas' schoolchildren are still heavier than most nationwide. However they praised the state for taking steps to address the problem.
Howell Wechsler, director of the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health said, "We're a long way from being able to state nationally that we're turning the corner."
In 2004 in Arkansas the students were weighed to determine their body-mass index which is an indicator of whether people carry an appropriate amount of weight for their height. States such as California, Florida and Pennsylvania, have also adopted similar programs.
Arkansas categorizes kids as overweight or at risk of becoming overweight rather than classifying children as obese, as an adult BMI calculator does.
The CDC has estimated that 17 percent of children are overweight, nationally whereas in Arkansas the rate is 20.4 percent. 17.1 percent students are considered to be "at risk."
Huckabee said, "Arkansas is the only state now that shows an actual arrest of that progression. I think it's going to help to move other states toward taking a more aggressive role in confronting the issue of childhood obesity."
In Arkansas obesity rates were highest among Hispanic boys and black girls. Over half the Hispanic boys in grades 3-7 and nearly half the black girls in grades 5-9 were identified.
About 80,000 Arkansas students were not tested. Some were pregnant, some parents or students declined, and some were absent on the day of the test.