New statistics show encouraging developments in obesity rates among younger children, say US authorities. Figures for the last 10 years show they fell by 43% among the nation's preschoolers.
A new study by researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA, shows that although overall obesity rates for the last 10 years have stayed at the same, high level, they fell significantly for children aged 2 to 5 years, and rose significantly among women aged 60 and over.
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the CDC's own National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which samples 9,000 Americans of all ages.
This found that among American children aged between 2 and 5, obesity rates fell from nearly 13.9% in 2003-2004 to 8.4% in 2011-2012, a drop of 43%.
While the analysis did not compare the rates for 2009-2010 with those for 2011-2012, the survey data itself shows obesity rates in that age group fell during that period from just over 12% to just over 8%.
CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden says:
"We continue to see signs that, for some children in this country, the scales are tipping."
The report follows another recently released CDC figure that showed a significant fall in obesity rates among 2 to 4 year olds from low-income families taking part in federal nutrition programs, he adds, noting that:
"We've also 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."
Precise reasons for fall in preschoolers' obesity rates not clear
Although the exact reasons for the sharp fall in obesity in preschoolers are not clear, the CDC note in a press release that over recent years, standards for nutrition and physical activity have been improving in the nation's child care centers.
The precise reasons for the fall in obesity in preschoolers are unclear, but study authors suggest reduced consumption of sugary drinks could be a factor.
Among other possible reasons, the agency cites reduced consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks among younger Americans and improvements in breastfeeding, which can help prevent obesity in breastfed children.
First Lady Michelle Obama, who in 2010 launched a campaign to fight childhood obesity, says:
"I am thrilled at the progress we've made over the last few years in obesity rates among our youngest Americans."
Meanwhile, another US team recently showed that obesity may start in kindergarten. They found that children who were overweight or obese by kindergarten were four times more likely to be obese in eighth grade, compared with normal-weight peers.
The new CDC study shows that while the overall obesity rate remains unchanged, it is still high, and the authors urge there is a need to continue with surveillance.
In 2013, the CDC reported that only 1 in 5 US adults gets enough exercise. They found only 20% of American adults were meeting both the aerobic and muscle-strengthening components of the physical activity guidelines issued by the federal government.
Written by Catharine Paddock PhD