Best States For Healthy Kids

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Connecticut is America's top state for raising healthy kids, while Alaska ranks lowest on a list compiled by Child Magazine.

Of course, it's possible to raise a fit child anywhere. No state has a monopoly on health, but some may make it a bit easier to achieve, the survey shows.

Not that long ago, the list might have looked somewhat different. Connecticut rose to the top with school-based measures that took effect last July, says the magazine.

Still, food and fitness aren't just important at school. What happens at home and in leisure time also help shape children's health habits, for better or worse. The magazine took that into account, too.

Most states could stand to get better. "Just one state requires P.E. for all students daily, only one in four specifies a reasonable physical education class size, and only two-thirds teach elementary school students about nutrition," says the article.

Best, Worst States For Healthy Kids

The top five states were:

    1. Connecticut
    2. New York
    3. Vermont
    4. Massachusetts
    5. Missouri
At the bottom of the list were:
    46. Kansas
    47. Mississippi
    48. Nevada
    49. Nebraska
    50. Alaska
States were rated by a panel of health, fitness, and nutrition experts for the magazine. Judging was based on more than a dozen criteria, including school requirements and recommendations for physical education and nutrition classes, playground safety, youth sports participation, and the number of fast-food restaurants.

Why Connecticut Won

Connecticut impressed the judges with a new state law requiring students in kindergarten through fifth grade to get daily physical activity at school (physical education classes or recess). Connecticut encourages 60-90 minutes of physical education per week for kindergarten through third-graders, and 80-120 minutes per week for fourth through sixth graders, says the magazine.

Connecticut law now also requires schools to sell low-fat dairy products, water, and fruit whenever kids can purchase other foods, says the article. That gives kids more nutritious options to choose from.

Beyond that, five Connecticut schools have totally swapped junk food and soda in their cafeterias for healthier items such as yogurt and fruit. A dietitian working on the pilot project, which started last fall, told the magazine she hasn't heard any gripes about it from students.

Why Other States Stumbled

States slipped further down the list if they didn't require physical education or nutrition classes, or if their playgrounds were unsafe. Other shortfalls included low levels of youth sports.

In the lowest-ranked state — Alaska — only high school students are required to take physical education, and those classes usually aren't taught by certified P.E. specialists, says the magazine. Alaska's playgrounds in state parks also weren't in good shape, according to the article.

Then there's Mississippi (No. 47). That's the state with the highest percentage of heavy high school students, says the magazine, citing a government study of 32 states. Around 15 percent of Mississippi students are too heavy and another 15 percent are on the verge of being overweight, says the magazine.

The Rest Of The Rankings

Here's how the other states rated:

    6. Maine
    7. West Virginia
    8. Wisconsin
    9. Arkansas
    10. Illinois
    11. Montana
    12. Georgia
    13. California
    14. Rhode Island
    15. Texas
    16. New Jersey
    17. Oregon
    18. Minnesota
    19. Colorado
    20. Florida
    21. Utah
    22. Maryland
    23. Indiana
    24. Washington
    25. Michigan
    26. Hawaii
    27. South Carolina
    28. Louisiana
    29. Pennsylvania
    30. New Hampshire
    31. Kentucky
    32. Virginia
    33. Ohio
    34. New Mexico
    35. Oklahoma
    36. North Carolina
    37. North Dakota
    38. Delaware
    39. Tennessee
    40. Arizona
    41. Iowa
    42. Wyoming
    43. Idaho
    44. Alabama
    45. South Dakota
The survey appears in the magazine's April issue.

Sources: Cicero, K., Child Magazine, April 2005. Associated Press.

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD
© 2005, WebMD Inc. All rights reserved