It seems that whenever good health news crosses the horizon, there’s always a “but.”
So it is with the unquestionably good news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that obesity in children 2 to 5 years old declined markedly in just less than a decade. In 2003-2004, almost 14 percent of those preschoolers were obese; that dropped to slightly more than 8 percent in 2011-2012 — an improvement of 43 percent.
One of the “buts” with this good news is that obesity remained largely unchanged for the rest of the American population, though it increased by 21 percent in women 60 or older.
Another “but,” and an important one, is that researchers aren’t sure how to explain the pre-schoolers’ improvement. They speculate that the change may be associated with an increase in breastfeeding. Also, the CDC previously reported that the obesity rate among low-income pre-schoolers whose parents participate in federal nutrition programs declined between 2008 and 2011 after having risen for many years.
Another possible factor is a decrease in the number of sugary drinks the kids ingest. Yet other possibilities are greater emphasis on healthy foods in preschools as well as exercise programs whose salient feature is to get kids moving around. For kids that age, riding a tricycle or chasing a ball isn’t exercise, it’s playtime.
Another possibility that has been suggested, although we hope it’s not the case, is that the 43-percent drop in obesity for these children is a statistical anomaly.
In our view, the numbers hold promise because if these kids are acquiring healthful habits, they stand a better chance of growing into healthy adults. After all, children who are overweight at 3 to 5 years of age are five times more likely than other children to be overweight and even obese as adults.
That matters because adults who are obese don’t just have limited mobility. They’re at greater risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and other ailments. According to one estimate, our nation spends $190 billion a year treating illnesses linked with obesity.
As troubling as problems with obesity are, they are largely preventable because obesity itself is preventable. We are hopeful that the CDC’s most recent announcement reflects a trend rather than an anomaly, and that researchers can find definitive reasons for the trend so that the good news keeps on coming.