Photo © Jessica Kourkounis / New York Times
Hopeful news came from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) two weeks ago—obesity rates among preschoolers from low-income families have dropped in 18 states.
After decades of disheartening increases in childhood obesity rates, this is the first report to show that the epidemic may finally be trending downwards. The study analyzed the weights and heights of 12 million children, aged 2-4, who participated in federally funded nutrition programs. Carried out in 2009, the study showed that only 9 states had decreases and 24 had increases. This year, 18 states saw drops, 19 remained stagnant, and only 3 saw increases (Tennessee, Colorado and Pennsylvania).
CDC map showing increases and decreases for childhood obesity rates, 2008-2011
Though the declines were modest, with most states falling by less than one percentage point, this is still a victory for child nutrition. In essence, the highest-risk children in almost half of the United States are getting healthier. “Such small changes can magnify into large improvements for public health,” says Tom Friedan, Director of the CDC.
But what exactly has been propelling these changes?
While the true answer remains veiled in mystery, researchers have suggested several theories. The first includes changes to the federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. In 2009, the USDA made revisions so that more nutritious foods (fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, low-fat milk) could be bought with WIC coupons over of pre-packaged and sweetened foods. The second is that less sugary drinks are now offered in school cafeterias. The third, perhaps, is that more mothers are breastfeeding. A number of educational efforts, such as Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, have likewise encouraged healthy eating and active living.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Michelle Obama was particularly thrilled by the news. “Today’s announcement reaffirms my belief that together, we are making a real difference in helping kids across the country get a healthier start to life,” said the First Lady in a statement.
News from just this week revealed that we are making real strides in helping adults, too. According to a brand new study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, adult obesity rates have fallen flat in every state except for one. To discover how the US can keep up the momentum and continue to reverse rates 0f both childhood and adult obesity, read these 9 key policy suggestions from the Foundation.