Category Archives: Childhood Obesity

Preschoolers eat healthier food at daycare than they do at home

20131028_new_day_school_7321Sometimes the folks here at just have to shake our heads and think that we can all do so much better …

A recent study conducted by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has found that preschool age children are consuming more calories and fewer fruits, vegetables and milk outside of child care centers than what is recommended by the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

Based off of guidelines from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, children who attend full-time child care are to receive one-half to two-thirds of their daily nutritional needs while attending a child care facility, leaving about a third to one-half of their total calories to be consumed away from child care.

Kristen Copeland, MD, a researcher in the Division of General and Community Pediatrics and senior author of the study, and her team were interested in what children consume outside of child-care settings. They conducted the study on approximately 340 preschool-aged children from 30 randomly selected, licensed, full-time child-care centers in Hamilton County, OH.

“We found that after children left child-care centers, they weren’t eating enough fruits or vegetables, or drinking enough milk to meet dietary guidelines, and on average consumed more calories than recommended.”

In the study, which captured a single day of dietary intake, children attending full-time child care consumed an average of 685 calories between pick up from child care and bedtime. This amount was 140 calories more than the midrange of the recommendation for this timeframe 433-650 calories. Half of the children consumed more than 900 calories after child care.

During dinner and/or snack after child care, it is recommended that children eat 1/2-3/4 cup of fruit (e.g., 1/2-3/4 of a small apple), 1/2-3/4 cup of vegetables (e.g., 6-9 baby carrots) and 6 to 8 ounces of skim or low-fat (1 percent) milk to meet dietary recommendations.

The study found that that the majority of the calories that the children consumed at home came from sweet and salty snacks (for instance, pretzels, crackers, cookies, snack bars, doughnuts, candy), sugar-sweetened beverages, and whole milk or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk.

Dr. Copeland said that contrary to her team’s hypotheses, children from low-income families did not consume fewer fruits and vegetables than children from upper income families; children consumed insufficient fruits and vegetables across the board. Lower-income children were also not significantly more likely to be overweight than upper-income children. The only significant difference in diet was that children from low-income families consumed more sugar-sweetened beverages.

Excess calories consumed outside of the child-care centers were significantly associated with children being overweight. For every increase in 200 calories consumed away from the center, the child’s odds of being overweight increased by 20 percent.

Dr. Copeland says it is helpful for obesity prevention efforts to identify where children’s excess calorie consumption is occurring.

Feeding small children properly isn’t a complicated task. In fact, the recommendations are fairly simple – half cup of fruit, half cup of vegetables and a cup of milk (skim or low fat) will take care of their nutritional requirements when they get home from daycare. has to wonder whether or not there’s a “treat” mentality going on. Parents, who may be feeling guilty about sending their little ones to daycare are “treating” their kids when they get home with food. As adults we often do this ourselves. We’ve worked a long, hard day and feel that we deserve a “treat” when we get home so we break out the ice cream.

Let’s think long and hard about the nutrition decisions we make for the youngest among us … we should be doing our best to set them up for long, healthy lives.

Just too much!!! 12% of American kids’ calories come from fast food consumption doesn’t like fast food for anyone, but when it comes to our kids we really have a problem. That feeling should be shared by everyone here in this country. And here’s some great information that backs up our stance.

At a time of growing concern over childhood obesity, a new report shows kids are getting12 percent of their total calories from fast-food restaurants.

Not surprisingly, teens are more likely than younger kids to consume fast food, according to the report from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those 12 to 19 years old got 17 percent of their calories from fast food in 2010-2011, versus 9 percent of children 2 to 11 years old.

By comparison, an earlier CDC report, done in 2013, found that adults got about 11 percent of their calories from fast food.

A third of kids eat fast food on any given day, according to the new report, which found that children eat the equivalent of a small hamburger — such as the kind found in a McDonald’s Happy Meal — every day.

Sandra Hassink, president of the Elk Grove Village-based American Academy of Pediatrics, credits advertising fast food with cartoon characters and including toys with meals.

“The marketing is working,” says Hassink.

Children who eat a lot of fast food tend to consume more calories but have a nutritionally poorer diet versus other kids, the report says — of special concern given that the obesity rate among children has more than doubled in the past 30 years, from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012.

A growing number of children are developing health problems once seen only in middle-aged people, such as high blood pressure, liver disease and type 2 diabetes, Hassink says.

“Childhood is not a place where you can say, ‘Let everyone eat what they want, and we can fix it later,’ ” she says.

Let’s keep our kids healthy. Let’s make the same kind of commitment to giving them the best start in life that we make about reading to them, playing with them, and building their self esteem. Our commitment to their nutritional health and well-being should be on that same list. Let’s take fast food off the menu for children everywhere!

More than an hour of TV time can make a kindergartener a couch potato

la-sci-sn-one-hour-tv-watching-overweight-obes-001What do you think of when you hear the term “couch potato?” Most picture a rather slovenly individual spending hours in front of the television, usually accompanied by junk food. The person in that imaginary image is probably overweight, too. Can kids be couch potatoes? How much time in front of the tv would qualify? The American Academy of Pediatrics has set the recommended screen time for children at less than two hours every day. But a new study finds that an hour of television each day can put a kindergartener at risk for being overweight or obese.

Kindergarten children who watched television for more than one hour a day were 52% more likely to be overweight than their schoolmates who watched less TV, researchers said. The kids who spent at least an hour each day in front of the boob tube were also 72% more likely to be obese.

These figures are based on data from 12,650 children from around the country who started kindergarten in the fall of 2011 and were enrolled in a study run by the U.S. Department of Education. Researchers measured the height and weight of each young student (which were used to calculate their body mass index), and parents were asked how much TV time their kids got.

The average amount of time this nationally representative group of kindergartners spent watching TV was 3.3 hours. When the researchers did their statistical analysis to link time spent watching TV with weight, they controlled for factors that might have skewed the results, like gender, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

The researchers also took into account the number of hours the kids spent using computers, but it turned out that had no correlation with the children’s BMI.

One year after they entered the study, 10,853 of the children had their height and weight measured again, and their parents updated the researchers on their television-viewing habits. The results were once again striking: Compared to the kids who watched less than an hour of TV per day, those who watched an hour or more were 39% more likely to become overweight between kindergarten and first grade. They also were 86% more likely to become obese during that time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children limit their total screen time — including time in front of the TV — to less than two hours per day. But these results suggest their advice may be overly generous.

“Given the data presented in this study, the AAP may wish to lower its recommended TV viewing allowances,” Dr. Mark DeBoer, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Virginia, said in a statement.

Kids love television. That’s no secret. There are so many great and educational shows today for kindergarten kids. knows that there’s plenty of quality viewing available. But the quality of the show has nothing to do with the effects of our kids sitting in front of a TV for hours. We found it interesting that computer habits (computers are still a screen) had no correlation to weight gain and obesity. Kids aren’t eating in front of the computer and they’re certainly not drinking anything near a keyboard. But they are while watching their favorite shows. The good news here is that parents are in control of their kindergarteners viewing habits and CAN make a big difference. Get them outside. Play a board game. Read them a book. Let them help in the kitchen. Let’s help our children view television as one of a variety of choices for how to spend their time … not the preferable one.

Wendy’s drops soda from kids meals … sort of, but not really

WendysKidMealSorry Wendy’s. is really not trying to minimize your efforts to offer healthier options to consumers. But it’s true … a kids meal without a soda is still a kids meal. It’s still full of calories, fat and sodium, not to mention ingredients your average child can’t pronounce and doesn’t need. Plus, you really didn’t remove it, you just stopped promoting it.

Wendy’s is the latest fast-food chain to remove the soda option from kids’ meal menus.

That means when parents drive through a pick-up window, they won’t see soda as an option on the menu board, but if they decide to order one, they won’t be turned down.

The fast-food chain is the most recent to cave to pressure from children’s health advocacy groups. McDonald’s made a similar commitment to drop soda from Happy Meals in 2013, after partnering with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a group aimed at fighting childhood obesity.

The Center for Science in Public Interest released a statement Thursday saying that Wendy’s was removing the soda option from menu boards and kids’ meals.

The statement said they hoped Wendy’s would also offer healthier choices including, “whole grain rolls, offering more fruit and vegetable options, reducing sodium across the menu, and dropping Frostys from the children’s menu.”

Unlike some fast-food chains, Wendy’s default drink choice was never soda, Bob Bertini, a spokesman for Wendy’s said in an e-mail to USA TODAY Network.

“When ordering a kids’ meal, the customer is asked what beverage they prefer,” Bertini wrote. “The change is the kids’ meal beverage options which are shown on our menu boards.”

Bertini says the fast-food company began displaying images of “healthful beverage options,” including 1% white or chocolate milk, bottled water and 100% juice.

He says the kids’ meal soft drink option no longer appears on the chain’s menu boards, inside the restaurants, at the pick-up windows or on the mobile app in the U.S. and Canada.

While soda is no longer the default drink, it still remains one of the most profitable items for fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Wendy’s, according to Jesse Bragg, media director for Corporate Accountability International.

Bragg says nothing will be solved until the marketing practices that draw kids to fast food is curbed.

“It’s incredibly difficult to enforce on a local level in the fast food industry,” Bragg said.

For children’s health advocates the battle is far from over. In the soda wars, other restaurants such as Subway, Arby’s and Chipotle do not offer soda on the kids’ menu.

But, one of the giants is still left standing — Burger King.
“Two down, one to go,” says Howell Wechsler, chief executive officer of Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

An email statement from Burger King said the company is, “currently in the process of analyzing the removal of fountain drinks from our kids’ menu boards.”

So to clarify this “change” even more — you CAN still get a soda with a kids meal at Wendy’s. The soda is simply not being promoted on the menu boards. Nearest we can tell, that’s not much of a change. It’s not like consumers are actually being told in the store that they can no longer order a soda with the kids meal. THAT would be a change. Taking the image of the soda out of the pretty picture of the kids meal and leaving the word soda out of the kids meal description on the menu board … not so much.

Dads consuming too much sugar may increase the risk of obesity in their children

High SugarMost research regarding childhood obesity as it relates to parents and pregnancy points to the dietary habits of mothers. We’re actually quite accustomed to moms, as the carriers of their children, as the “important link” to their health. Expectant mothers shouldn’t smoke, shouldn’t consume caffeine, need to be concerned about mercury levels in their diets, need to avoid alcohol, are discouraged from dying their hair … the list grows longer just about every year. And that makes sense. Growing babies receive their nourishment directly from the women in which they develop. And proper development requires some restrictions. We rarely hear about dads in the same manner.

But now there appears to be a link between a father’s sugar consumption just before conception and an increased risk of obesity in his offspring.

A new study shows that increasing sugar in the diet of male fruit flies for just 1 or 2 days before mating can cause obesity in their offspring through alterations that affect gene expression in the embryo. There is also evidence that a similar system regulates obesity susceptibility in mice and humans. The research, which is published online December 4 in the Cell Press journal Cell, provides insights into how certain metabolic traits are inherited and may help investigators determine whether they can be altered.

Research has shown that various factors that are passed on by parents or are present in the uterine environment can affect offspring’s metabolism and body type. Investigators led by Dr. J. Andrew Pospisilik, of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Germany, and team member Dr. Anita Öst, now at Linkoping University in Sweden, sought to understand whether normal fluctuations in a parent’s diet might have such an impact on the next generation.

Through mating experiments in Drosophila melanogaster, or fruit flies, the scientists found that dietary interventions in males could change the body composition of offspring, with increased sugar leading to obesity in the next generation. High dietary sugar increased gene expression through epigenetic changes, which affect gene activity without changing the DNA’s underlying sequence. “To use computer terms, if our genes are the hardware, our epigenetics is the software that decides how the hardware is used,” explains Dr. Öst. “It turns out that the father’s diet reprograms the epigenetic ‘software’ so that genes needed for fat production are turned on in their sons.”

Because epigenetic programs are somewhat plastic, the investigators suspect that it might be possible to reprogram obese epigenetic programs to lean epigenetic programs. “At the moment, we and other researchers are manipulating the epigenetics in early life, but we don’t know if it is possible to rewrite an adult program,” says Dr. Öst.

The fruit fly models and experiments that the team designed will be valuable resources for the scientific community. Because the flies reproduce quickly, they can allow investigators to quickly map out the details of how nutrition and other environmental stimuli affect epigenetics and whether or not they can be modulated, both early and later in life.

“It’s very early days for our understanding of how parental experiences can stably reprogram offspring physiology, lifelong. The mechanisms mapped here, which seem in some way to be conserved in mouse and man, provide a seed for research that has the potential to profoundly change views and practices in medicine,” says Dr. Pospisilik. found this research exceptionally fascinating. First, it brings fathers directly into the health mix on a different level, clearly stating that their contribution to the developing child goes beyond genetics. And subsequently, the idea that science can use this information to determine whether or not there can be some sort of modulation of these effects may prove to be quite valuable in the war against obesity.

Until that can be determined, it’s probably a good — and simple — idea for dads to limit their sugar intake prior to conception. Moms already give up quite a bit in order to achieve healthy pregnancies. Giving up sugar is surely an easy and temporary sacrifice for fathers to make to contribute to that goal.

How much money does obesity cost the world? A new report claims that it’s just as much as war and terrorism.

_pek102d_4944201It’s no secret that the obesity epidemic is costing governments money. Until now though, it’s been difficult to measure exactly how expensive it’s become.

The obesity epidemic is now so widespread it is hurting economies as much as war and terrorism, new research reveals.

More than 2.1 billion people are overweight or obese – costing the world US $2 trillion a year.  And while China has lower obesity rates than advanced economies, its numbers are rising fast.

The study, published by McKinsey & Company, calculated the combined social burden by estimating the cost of health care, lost productivity and mitigating the impact of obesity.
According to the research, obesity costs US$600 billion more than alcoholism, US$1.1 trillion more than outdoor air pollution and US$1.3 trillion more than drug use. It has the same impact on the economy as war and terrorism, and is just short of having the same negative impact as smoking.

Almost 30 per cent of the world’s people are overweight or obese, more than twice the number who are undernourished.

McKinsey estimates that if obesity rates continue, almost half of the world’s adult population will be overweight or obese by 2030.

A report in medical journal The Lancet reveals China has 62 million obese people – behind only the United States.

While the battle of the bulge remains a relatively adult problem in China, obesity in children is growing at alarming rates. Almost a quarter – about 23 per cent – of Chinese boys under the age of 20 are either overweight or obese, as are 14 per cent of girls.

The prevalence of obesity in cities is up to four times that in rural areas. And obesity rates are expected to rise as incomes go up in poorer areas.

China is attempting to combat the growing obesity problem by constructing more playgrounds and making exercise mandatory in schools.

However, McKinsey argues that obesity reduction requires engagement from many sectors, including government, retailers, consumer-goods companies, restaurants, media organisations, educators and health-care providers.

It’s so important to emphasize that the obesity crisis is a global problem. also wants to emphasize that the growth of this crisis tracks closely with the enormous growth in the availability and popularity of processed foods, junk foods and fast foods across the globe. That’s not coincidental. Fat, sugar and sodium ARE the issues of the day. Controversial ingredients like high fructose corn syrup are adversely affecting our health, regardless of how the food industry attempts to explain them away.

Obesity, at its most minor level, changes people’s lifestyles in countless negative manners. At it’s worst, it causes debilitating disease and death. And it’s costing countries horrendous amounts of money for a condition that is completely preventable. It’s time to make real changes to our food supply on a global level.

Nutritionally, it’s all about the first 1,000 days of life has devoted a lot of blog space discussing the importance of children’s nutrition. We’ve certainly had plenty of good reasons for that — the obesity epidemic has affected our kids in a profound way, compromising their health and altering their young lifestyles. Much has been done in an effort to change and ultimately reverse the crisis. School lunches are under new regulations. First Lady Michelle Obama has done a wonderful job with her groundbreaking Let’s Move campaign. We’ve even seen some major manufacturers commit to ditching artificial food colors in products our children love.

But what if we started earlier in our children’s lives? What if healthy eating started, say, at conception, and lasted throughout the first 1,000 days of a child’s life?

That is what Lucy Martinez Sullivan hopes to drill into the national and international conversation with her organization, 1,000 Days. “I realized how little attention and how little money had been focused” on this stage in life, she said.

The most important time to pay attention to a child’s nutrition is from the time of conception until they are 2 years old. Good nutrition during this critical window can change their lives, leading to better growth of brain and body.

Certainly, some of the important focuses of 1,000 Days are conditions in poorer countries without great infrastructure. But the U.S. ranks among the top 10 worst-performing countries when it comes to several major factors of child and maternal health. We are a part of this as much as anywhere else.
Sullivan is on a campaign to get the message out to decision makers, world leaders, and perhaps most important, parents.

To try to help her expand the reach of her campaign, she partnered with a woman so many of us know, Heidi Murkoff — otherwise known as the writer of the “What to Expect” books.

“The lack of interest” in the earliest years of life “is just startling,” Murkoff said. “The whole focus is on elementary school kids. They’re already 9 years old.”

Did you know, according to the Journal of Obesity in 2012, that french fries are the most common “vegetable” among 12-15 month olds in North America? With 18.5 percent of them eating fries at least once a day? Or that by 19 to 24 months, 62 percent of toddlers had eaten a baked dessert, 20 percent consumed candy, and 44 percent had consumed a sweetened beverage, according to the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism in 2013?

So while many countries that Sullivan deals with are in crisis mode because the children are undernourished, ours are poorly nourished. And that means their brains aren’t growing, they are in trouble physically, and it will be hard to dig out from under the damage already done.

So what now? As far as these two powerhouses are concerned, they will work together to try to engage the next generation of moms, policy makers and advocates to ensure a better start for babies worldwide.

Murkoff said she wants to see healthy food become more affordable and available. She wants to see more help to support breastfeeding for those who are able. “It’s a process that doesn’t come naturally,” she said. But many women want to, they just don’t know how. Or they are forced to return to work, many times to a place or shift work that doesn’t allow for pumping.

What does this mean for you and me? We need to change the way we all look at nutrition, childhood obesity and what causes a lack of good health — from the earliest days. That will help us prevent the worst diseases and health outcomes for the newest generation.

And, Murkoff noted, we have to “nurture the nurturer.”

That sentiment, Sullivan noted, will happen if we work to change policies, like a lack of paid maternity leave. How can we feed our children well, or even attempt to breastfeed them, if we have to return to work shortly after birth? How can we watch what goes into their little bodies if we can’t cobble together good childcare for those of us who do work? How can we feed them fresh fruits if we live in areas that have nothing but corner stores?

“The more we neglect populations…the more these families get locked into a cycle of bad health,” Sullivan said. “We need to set moms up to succeed.”

There’s so much critical information that’s revealed here. The research cited is fairly astounding. And it certainly points to the idea that we can do so much better for our children here in the U.S. We can remember when people were appalled when ketchup was considered a vegetable in school cafeterias and now we’re finding out that french fries are the most common “vegetable” for a substantial percentage of one-year-olds. It’s absolutely time to focus more energy on the nutritional quality of diets for the youngest among us. We’ll be doing so much for the health of future generations — and, in doing so, we’ll have a better opportunity reverse the obesity crisis once and for all.

Parents: here’s another great reason to spend more time in your own kitchen!

cooking togetherHere at, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of preparing meals at home. You know the reasons we’re such strong proponents of home cooking — better ingredients, less salt, less sugar and healthier fats are among the finer points. But we should never forget to include the idea that home-cooked meals that utilize fresh ingredients win on flavor over processed foods every single time.

For parents, especially, cooking at home is a significant aspect of raising healthy kids. With the obesity crisis at unprecedented levels, home cooking makes a real difference in the lives of our children. It also helps our kids develop a taste for foods that aren’t chicken nuggets so that they’ll actually embrace the vegetables and fruits that are an important part of their healthy diet. It seems that new information has revealed that eating home-cooked meals does exactly that!

Research to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), the foremost society for research into all aspects of eating and drinking behavior, suggests that the amount time parents spend on food preparation at home influences children’s food intake decisions made in the laboratory without parental supervision.

“In general, research shows that children tend to eat inadequate amounts of nutrient-rich foods while eating large amounts of sugary and fatty foods,” Shehan said. “It’s encouraging to see that parents can possibly affect the quality of their children’s food choices outside the home by spending more time cooking.”

The main findings showed that children whose parents reported more time spent on food preparation at home independently chose to eat meals that were lower in energy density (a measure of calories per gram) than children whose parents reported less food preparation time. In other words, the children whose parents reported more time on food preparation tended to make healthier food choices in the lab than children whose parents spent less time at home on food preparation, even without parental supervision.

The study, conducted through Penn State’s Department of Food Science and Department of Nutritional Sciences, involved 61 children between ages 4 and 6 and their parents. Each family in the study participated in two laboratory visits, where children tasted and rated their liking of a variety of foods and were then given unlimited access to these foods without adult instruction or interference. Children were allowed to eat as much or as little of any of the foods presented, which included highly energy dense foods such as chicken nuggets and chocolate chip cookies, as well as lower calorie foods such as grapes and broccoli. Meanwhile, parents completed questionnaires addressing various topics including their home food environment, their child’s food preferences and habits, and their family’s socioeconomic status.

To elucidate the neural mechanisms of such age-related changes in taste preference and sensitivity, electrophysiological experiments examined taste response characteristics of chorda tympani nerves. These nerves mediate gustatory information from the tongue to the brainstem. The researchers observed no significant differences in activity of the chorda tympani nerves by taste stimuli across the different age groups.

This research suggests parental home food preparation may influence children’s food intake patterns, even when children are eating outside the home. Future research studies are needed to see whether encouraging increased amounts of home food preparation or teaching parents food preparation skills will improve children’s eating habits.

“Even after controlling for family income and whether or not children had a parent at home full time, we found that children whose parents spend more time cooking make better choices,” Shehan added. “Our food preferences develop early in life, so getting young children to eat nutritious foods can help them stay healthy in the long run.

What we serve at home appears to develop taste preferences in children and that’s important. We all know kids love chocolate chip cookies, but that broccoli you’re preparing, or that whole grain pasta with vegetables that they really love — they’re going to look for those foods when they aren’t at home, too. And for every parent that’s struggled to find the time to put a home-cooked healthy meal on the table at the long day, that’s a great motivation to continue those healthy habits for the whole family!

Childhood obesity: there’s more than a physical price to pay

Cost of Childhood ObesityWhile there has been some good news recently regarding the obesity crisis, there’s still a long way to go. With about one in every three children and teens in the U.S. either overweight or obese, there are many health concerns related to childhood obesity. This life-altering condition is a burden for the millions of children affected by it, both emotionally and physically.

Now, we’re learning more details about the financial burden as well.

For the first time, the costs of the condition, called “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century” by the World Health Organization, have been quantified by researchers. The findings are shocking: The epidemic has an estimated $19,000 price tag per child.

The cost analysis was led by researchers at the Duke Global Health Institute and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, who measured direct medical costs, such as doctors’ visits and medication. Additional costs, such as lost productivity due to obesity, were not included.

The figure becomes more frightening when the number of obese children in the U.S. is taken into account: Lifetime medical costs for 10-year-olds alone reach $14 billion.
With this new research, the incentive to reduce childhood obesity comes with economic benefits in addition to health, said Eric Andrew Finkelstein, the lead author of the study.
“These estimates provide the financial consequences of inaction and the potential medical savings from obesity prevention efforts that successfully reduce or delay obesity onset,” he said.

Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released numbers last year touting a surprising 43 percent drop in obesity rates among two- to five-year-olds in the last decade, they don’t take into account the bigger picture. Obesity rates still go up as children age. The condition is also associated with premature death later in life and remains a global epidemic. tries to keep our community up to date with news and research regarding the obesity crisis. As we said, there’s still so much work to do. As our children’s caregivers, it’s up to us to begin healthy habits for them right from the start. Fresh, real foods and plenty of activity should help to set them up for a healthier life that doesn’t include the emotional, physical and financial problems connected with obesity.

Finally, some good news in the midst of the obesity crisis

198561_10150136837518407_7743506_n.jpgThere are real efforts being made in the fight against obesity, but it’s still a global crisis affecting millions. While has devoted many blog posts to research findings and changes to government nutrition standards for our schools, the data has remained fairly negative. Today though, we can report on some significant data that may indicate a turning of the tides here in the U.S.

New federal data published Tuesday show a 43 percent drop in obesity rates among children ages 2 to 5 during the past decade, providing an encouraging sign in the fight against one of the country’s leading public health problems, officials said.
The finding comes from a government study considered a gold standard to measure public-health trends. Researchers found that just over 8 percent of children 2 to 5 were obese in 2011-2012, down from nearly 14 percent in 2003-2004. Although the drop was significant, federal health officials noted that obesity rates for the broader population remain unchanged, and for women older than 60, obesity rates rose about 21 percent during that period.

The report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, comes on the heels of data released last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that obesity rates among low-income preschoolers participating in federal nutrition programs declined broadly from 2008 to 2011 after rising for decades.

Cynthia Ogden, a CDC epidemiologist and lead author of the most recent study, said that the data offer good news in at least one age group.

“We see hope in young kids,” she said.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey tracks obesity data by measuring height and weight. The data are released every two years.

CDC officials said that last year’s data represented the largest and most comprehensive report of declining obesity rates in poor children. Nineteen states and U.S. territories had a lower percentage of obese children ages 2 to 4.

“We continue to see signs that, for some children in this country, the scales are tipping,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said. Federal researchers have also seen encouraging signs from communities across the country with obesity-prevention programs, including Anchorage, Philadelphia, New York City and King County, Wash., he said.

“This confirms that at least for kids, we can turn the tide and begin to reverse the obesity epidemic,” Frieden said.

Researchers say that they don’t know the precise reasons behind the drop in obesity rates for children 2 to 5. But they noted that many child-care centers have started to improve nutrition and physical activity standards over the past few years. Ogden said that CDC data also show decreases in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among youth in recent years.

Another possible factor might be improvement in breastfeeding rates in the United States, which helps fight obesity.

In a statement, first lady Michelle Obama praised the progress in lowering obesity rates among young children and said that participation in her Let’s Move! program was encouraging healthier habits.

A child is considered obese if his or her body mass index, calculated using weight and height, is at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex, according to CDC growth charts.

The new information is certainly encouraging and the findings of declining consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages for young children is very good news! We’re hopeful that in future reports, we’ll be able to observe significant decreases in obesity for other age groups. Proposed changes to nutrition labels and the possible ban on trans fat in our food supply may prove to have positive effects for the entire population.

Good news about the obesity crisis … it’s a nice change!