Obesity rates down among preschoolers from poor families

Here’s some encouraging news: A new federal report finds obesity rates falling among 2 to 4 year-olds from low-income families. After decades of rising obesity rates, the tide appears to be turning in the right direction.

In the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers analyzed data on 11.6 million low-income preschoolers who participated in federally-funded maternal- and child-nutrition programs, such as WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children). The report used weight and height measurements on children from 40 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories (U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico). Ten states were not included because of incomplete data.

Researchers found that from 2008–2011, obesity rates:

  • Fell slightly in 18 states and one territory. Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, South Dakota and the U.S. Virgin Islands had the largest decline, each with a decrease in obesity of at least 1 percentage point
  • Showed no significant change in 20 states and Puerto Rico
  • Increased slightly in 3 states; Colorado, Pennsylvania and Tennessee

This U.S. map shows the changes in preschool obesity rates: Many states and territories are showing decreases in childhood obesity

[SOURCE: Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, 2008-2011. *Represents statistically significant annual decrease or increase in obesity.]

The report suggested some possible reasons for the downward turn in obesity. This includes an increase in breastfeeding; changes in the WIC food package, which may have improved the diets of low-income, preschool children and their families; national initiatives such as the Let's Move campaign and efforts to provide healthier food options and improve physical activity offerings in communities.

Yet, obesity rates among preschoolers are still too high:

  • 1 in 8 (12%) children ages 2 to 5 is obese. The rate is higher for black children, about 1 in 5 (19%); and for Hispanic children, about 1 in 6 (16%).
  • Overweight or obese preschoolers are 5 times as likely to be overweight or obese as adults.
  • As these children get older, obesity is linked to increased risk of high cholesterol, high blood sugar, asthma, and mental health problems.

While the decline in obesity is good news, state and local government and community-wide efforts need to continue so that healthy eating and physical activity can be a regular part of children’s lives.

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