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August 6, 2013

Report: Childhood obesity rates fell in 18 states

ATLANTA  — A new government report is the first evidence of a national decline in childhood obesity, health officials said Tuesday.

In 18 states, there were at least slight declines in obesity for low-income preschoolers.

Previous national statistics show obesity rates have been rising for decades and recently were essentially flat, although some places have reported improvements, like Philadelphia and New York City and the state of Mississippi. But the report from the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention shows signs of a wider-ranging improvement.

"Now, for the first time, we're seeing a significant decrease in childhood obesity" nationally, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director.

Still, 1 in 8 preschoolers are obese in the United States, and it's even more common in black and Hispanic kids.

Preschoolers who are overweight or obese are five times more likely than other children to be heavy as adults, which means greater risks of high cholesterol, high blood sugar, asthma and even mental health problems.

The new study's data comes from measurements of the height and weight of nearly 12 million low-income children in 40 states. The children were ages 2, 3 and 4. Most were enrolled in the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program which provides food vouchers and other services.

It's harder to get national data on preschoolers of more affluent families, so it's not clear if the trend applies to all young children. But experts note that low-income kids tend to be heavier.

"If you're going to look at the problem of obesity early in childhood, the group at highest risk are low-income kids. That's what makes this data so valuable for understanding trends in this major public health problem," said Dr. Matthew Davis, a University of Michigan researcher who tracks health policy and children's health issues.

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