It would be easy to dismiss as an aberration the news that the rate of obesity among preschoolers in many states, including Kansas, has declined.
After all, the declines were small, with just five states and the U.S. Virgin Islands reporting declines of at least 1 percent. Childhood obesity is so pervasive that 1 percent declines in a handful of states, smaller declines in many other states and even increases in a few states ought to restrain any jubilation.
In fact, jubilation would be premature. But there is the cautious optimism that comes with incremental progress against a problem that had done nothing but worsen in the last generation. According to the National Institutes of Health, obesity has more than doubled in young children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. What’s more, the percent of obese elementary-age children increased from 7 percent in 1980 to 18 percent in 2010. In 2010, more than one-third of American children and adolescents were overweight or obese. Preschoolers who are overweight or obese are five times more likely than their classmates to be overweight or obese as adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That matters because obese youth are more likely to develop high cholesterol or high blood pressure, factors in cardiovascular disease. They’re also more likely to be prediabetic and are at greater risk of acquiring bone and joint problems as well as lower self-esteem and other psychological problems.
Thus, any improvement — any indication that the rate of childhood obesity is turning around or even slowing — is welcome.
“Although obesity remains epidemic, the tide has begun to turn for some kids in some states, said CDC Director Thomas Frieden. “While the changes are small, for the first time in a generation, they are going in the right direction.”
He indicated that the data from more than 11 million children ages 2 to 4 from low-income families. in federal funded maternal- and child-nutrition programs seem valid and credible. He credits nutritional changes in the WIC — Women, Infants and Children — program, a consistent increase in breast-feeding and programs such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative that encourage healthy eating and active lifestyles.
Findings from preschoolers in affluent families are more difficult to get, so it’s not clear whether the data would translate to all preschoolers. Researchers do note, however, that children in low-income families are more likely to be overweight.
These findings are cause for optimism and recognition that efforts to fight childhood obesity are beginning to pay off.