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A significantly greater proportion of U.S. children were obese in 1980 than in 1963 because of poorer diets and sedentary lifestyles, a new study reports.

The study, published in the May issue of the American Journal of Diseases of Children, was based on four national surveys of children's arm skinfolds, conducted between 1963 and 1980.

During that period, researchers from Harvard and Tufts universities found, the incidence rate for obesity rose by 54 percent for children between the ages of 6 and 11--from 17.6 percent to 27.1 percent. The proportion of children defined as "superobese'' grew by 98 percent.

For children between the ages of 12 and 17, the obesity rate grew by 39 percent. The prevalence of superobesity also increased--from 5.5 percent to 9 percent.

The researchers called the findings "ominous,'' because obese children tend to become obese adults, who run a greater risk of developing such health problems as high blood pressure and diabetes.

The study attributes the increases in obesity in part to the greater amount of time spent watching television, and says that many children today also have poorer diets and are less likely to exercise.

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