Arkansas may have relatively more low-income families, known to have greater obesity levels, but the study�s numbers show problems in low- and high-income communities.
�As more data comes in, I think it�s going to be this bad everywhere. I don�t think it�s isolated to Arkansas,� said Carden Johnston, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Pediatrician Joe Thompson, director of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, said: �The epidemic of obesity in children is advancing much more quickly than the Centers for Disease Control and others predicted.�
William Dietz of the CDC said: �Either this reflects an ongoing increase in the prevalence of overweight children or that Arkansas has a more severe problem than other parts of the country. Either way it�s bad news.�
Children who weigh too much are at a greater risk of becoming heavy adults, are more likely to have low self-esteem and have a greater chance of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and bone and joint problems.
Arkansas is the only state to require that its 450,000 students from kindergarten to 12th grade have their height and weight measured to determine their body mass index, a formula that also considers age and gender.
Among the findings, reported at the Time/ABC News summit on obesity in Williamsburg, Va.:
* 22 percent of the students are overweight; 18 percent are on their way to developing weight problems.
* 58 percent are in the normal weight range; 2 percent are underweight.
* African-American and Hispanic students are more likely to be overweight or at risk of becoming so than white children.
The state will send letters home to parents this summer. If the child is overweight, parents will be advised to ask their doctor whether it is a problem, Thompson said.
Parents with overweight kids are advised to reduce their children�s TV time, increase physical activity and encourage them to drink low-calorie beverages.