U.S. children drastically overweight

CHICAGO

American children are getting fatter at an alarming rate, with the percentage of significantly overweight black and Hispanic youngsters more than doubling over 12 years and climbing 50 percent among whites, a study shows.

By 1998, nearly 22 percent of black children ages 4 to 12 were overweight, as were 22 percent of Hispanic youngsters and 12 percent of whites, according to researchers who analyzed data from a national survey.

In 1986, the same survey showed that about 8 percent of black children, 10 percent of Hispanic youngsters and 8 percent of whites were significantly overweight.

“Prior studies show it took 30 years for the overweight prevalence to double in American children,” said Dr. Richard Strauss, a pediatrician at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. This study should be “a call to action,” said Strauss, who conducted the research with Harold Pollack of the University of Michigan.

Among the reasons given for the increase: Children are spending much more time watching television, using computers and playing video games, and busy parents are relying more on fast food to feed their families.

Drug tunnel found under Mexican border

TUCSON, Ariz.

Federal authorities found an 85-foot tunnel under the U.S.-Mexican border yesterday and said they believed it had been used to smuggle $21 million worth of cocaine and marijuana into the United States.

Authorities said they had seized all the drugs 956 pounds of cocaine and 839 pounds of marijuana since smugglers began using the tunnel in late summer, Customs Agent Vince Iglio said. Two people were arrested last month.

The tunnel stretched from underneath a home in Nogales, 55 miles south of Tucson, to a concrete wash on the Mexican side of the border. Iglio said the opening on the Mexican side was covered by a steel utility plate and resealed with cement each time it was used.

The 4-foot-high tunnel, shored up throughout with lumber like a mine, was “one of the most complicated we”ve seen,” Iglio said. It was strung with electricity and tracks had been laid inside.

In a bedroom of the Nogales home, authorities found a mechanic”s dolly with a long rope attached. In a corner of the room, under carpeting and wooden flooring, was a 30-foot vertical shaft leading to the tunnel.

Pope speaks out against terrorism

VATICAN CITY

Pope John Paul II declared yesterday that nations have a moral and legal right to defend themselves against terrorism but must refrain from targeting the countries, ethnic groups or religions to which terrorists belong.

The Roman Catholic leader, in his most extensive statement on the subject, called terrorism “a true crime against humanity” and said nothing can justify the kind of “horrendous massacre” that occurred in the United States on Sept. 11.

Vatican officials declined to interpret the pontiff”s words as either an endorsement or a criticism of the U.S.-led military campaign to capture Osama bin Laden and destroy the Taliban regime that harbored him in Afghanistan.

Pope John Paul made his remarks in writing as part of his annual message for the church”s upcoming World Day of Peace.

3 Social Security plans recommended

WASHINGTON

President Bush”s Social Security commission recommended three plans yesterday to let younger workers invest some of their payroll taxes in the stock market. All would come with a cost.

The report is being issued as policy-makers focus on a war on terrorism and face disappearing federal budget surpluses. The commission tried to soften what could be a political time bomb in next year”s elections by sending the president three separate proposals for private accounts rather than a single solution. It suggested policy-makers discuss an overhaul for at least a year before taking action.

The proposals would require $2 trillion to $3 trillion in new government spending over the next 75 years.

And in some cases, workers retiring in 30 to 50 years would face cuts in annual benefits from 1 percent to nearly 33 percent.

Educational reform OK”d by committee

WASHINGTON

Millions of students nationwide could soon face required annual tests in reading and math under an education measure heading for final congressional approval.

President Bush”s education plan, which passed a key committee yesterday, would require all students in grades three through eight to take the tests, with scores affecting a school”s federal aid.

Bush said he was glad the committee acted. He urged the House and Senate to approve the compromise quickly so that states and local school districts can begin implementing it.

“The education of every child in America must always be a top priority,” the president said in a statement. “The conference agreement will ensure that no child in America is left behind.”

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