A recent study shows that rates of childhood obesity in the U.S. may be slowing. According to Scientific American (SA), after years of ever-increasing numbers, a survey of 26.7 million young children from low-income families showed that, for this group of children, the surging national rates of obesity may at last be leveling off, if not receding.
“This is the first national study to show that the prevalence of obesity and extreme obesity among young U.S. children may have begun to decline,” the researches noted in a brief article in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Scientific American also noted earlier this year that rates of childhood obesity seem to be falling in some U.S. cities.
An estimated 1 in 3 U.S. children is overweight. Since the 1980s, the number of obese children in the U.S. has more than tripled, said SA, which can present put children at risk for a host of physical ailments and social challenges.
Childhood obesity increases the chances of early life health problems, including joint problems and pre-diabetes. It also dramatically increases a person’s chances of being obese in later life. In the U.S., childhood obesity is found mostly in children living in poverty.
A team of researchers from the Centers for Disease Control’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity led by scientist Liping Pan combed through 12 years of data compiled by the Pediatric Nutritional Surveillance System, which includes information on roughly half of all U.S. children who qualify for federal health care and nutritional assistance.
Researchers examined rates of obesity — defined as a Body Mass Index rating above 20 for a 2-year-old male, for example — and compared them with reference growth charts. In this low-income population a “subtle, but important shift” took place around 2003.
SA reported, “Obesity rates increased from 13.05 percent in 1998 to 15.21 percent in 2003. Soon, however, obesity rates began decreasing, reaching 14.94 percent by 2010. Extreme obesity followed a similar pattern, increasing from 1.75 percent to 2.22 percent from 1998 to 2003, but declining to 2.07 percent by 2010.”
While the shift may seem small, the size of the sample makes it statistically significant. Each percentage point represents about 26,700 children in the study population who are no longer obese or extremely obese.
The Obama administration has tapped First Lady Michelle Obama with carrying its message of better health through physical activity and a healthier diet. The report’s authors noted, that the newly revealed trends “indicate modest recent progress of obesity prevention among young children. These finding may have important health implications because of the lifelong health risks of obesity and extreme obesity in early childhood.”
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