Finally, good news on the obesity epidemic: Though their parents and older siblings are just as overweight as ever, toddlers around the country are slimming down, and considerably.
Obesity in children ages 2-5 has declined 43 percent in the last decade, according to Centers for Disease Control data released today in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Nearly 14 percent of the nation’s young ones were considered obese in 2004 compared to a little over 8 percent in 2012. While this is inarguably a move in the right direction—the CDC called it, “an encouraging decline”—obesity rates for older children and adults remain stalled.
The reason behind the drop isn’t clear, but several moves have been made in the last ten years to combat the country’s growing waistlines, and many of the initiatives have focused on our youngest citizens.
CDC Director Tom Frieden says he’s seen “signs from communities around the country with obesity prevention programs including Anchorage, Alaska, Philadelphia, New York City, and King County, Washington. This confirms that at least for kids, we can turn the tide and begin to reverse the obesity epidemic.”
Likely due to a combination of these federal and local health initiatives that aim to improve nutrition and exercise at daycares and preschool programs, young children seem to be getting healthier. Children now get less of their calories from sugary beverages. And more babies are being breastfed, and for longer periods of time—a proven way to keep off excess weight in children.
The CDC classifies obesity as the nation’s number one health problem. Over one third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese—a number which rises to more than two-thirds for adults.
While some parents might shrug off larger little ones as just carrying “baby fat,” recent research has proven that excess weight follows young children and negatively affects them throughout their young and adult lives.
One third of kindergarteners who are overweight are obese by the eighth grade, according to study published last month in The New England Journal of Medicine. And studies show over three quarters of obese of children go on to become obese adults, with all the associated health problems.
Obese children are at increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, bone and joint problems, and psychological problems associated with self-esteem. They also face increased health care costs, and premature death.
News of the preschool slim down comes on the heels of a 2012 report that showed extreme obesity started to decrease in two to four-year-olds who participated in federal nutrition programs, mostly the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which in FY2011 provided food and education to almost 9 million low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under 5 years of age.