A Glimmer of Hope for Childhood Obesity

Have you heard the news? Obesity rates in children aged 2 to 5 years declined 43 percent from 2003 to 2012, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association based on data from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). When analyzing data from 2003–2004, researchers found that the obesity rate in this age group was 14 percent, but in data from 2011–2012, it dropped to 8 percent.

“We continue to see signs that, for some children in this country, the scales are tipping,” noted CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “We’ve also seen signs from around the country with obesity prevention programs including Anchorage, Alaska, Philadelphia, New York City, and King County, Washington. This confirms that at least for kids, we can turn the tide and begin to reverse the obesity epidemic.”

Reasons for the decline are not completely known, but the researchers note a few possibilities. For one, many childcare centers have begun to improve their nutrition and physical activity standards in recent years. In addition, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has decreased among youth. They also suggest that increases in breastfeeding rates may be partially responsible for the decrease.

Young children who are obese are much more likely to be obese as adults, so the good news could mean long-term reduction of the obesity rate in coming years. Some experts caution against too much optimism, however. “The picture will be clearer when we have a few more years of data,” stated Ruth Loos, PhD, a professor of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

I find this to be refreshing news. Amidst the mountains of bad news we are constantly faced with, a decline in obesity in this vulnerable population is welcomed information. But it’s only the tip of the iceberg. We still have a long way to go before we see major change in the obesity rates in this country. I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.

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