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FINALLY: Obesity rates among America's impoverished children are actually declining

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Some not-so-surprising facts and figures on fat and figures: Americans are fat. According to data released earlier this year by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, America is the fattest country in the developed world; and tragically, it's kids who bear much of obesity's burden.


The CDC reports that roughly 17% (or 12.5 million) of U.S. children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are obese (the U.S. is second only to Greece in the proportion of children who are affected by excess body weight). And while obesity rates have slowed or stabilized in many other countries, in America they've actually increased; since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has nearly tripled. Obesity during childhood is likely to continue into adulthood. Overweight adults have higher medical expenses and are at greater risk of premature death. Meanwhile, the fact that obesity and extreme obesity in children are more prevalent among minority and low-income families makes America's rampant fatness not just a public health issue, but a social justice issue, as well.

You get it. The U.S. has an obesity problem, and that problem is bound up with other pressing social matters. Now here's the good news: for the first time (in a LONG time) obesity and extreme obesity rates among America's young poor appears to be on the decline. It's a modest decline, but holy heck is it a welcome one.

The New York TImes' Sabrina Tavernise explains:

A new national study has found modest declines in obesity among 2- to 4-year-olds from poor families, a dip that researchers say may indicate that the obesity epidemic has passed its peak among this group.

The study, by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drew on the height and weight measurements of 27 million children who were part of the federal Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food subsidies to low-income mothers and their children up to the age of 5.

The study was based on data from 30 states and the District of Columbia and covered the years from 1998 to 2010. The share of children who were obese declined to 14.9 percent in 2010, down from 15.2 percent in 2003, after rising between 1998 and 2003. Extreme obesity also declined, dropping to 2.07 percent in 2010 from 2.22 percent in 2003. The study was published Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The report defined a 3-year-old boy of average height, almost 3 feet 2 inches tall, as being obese when he weighed 37 pounds or more. The same boy was categorized as being extremely obese when he weighed 44 pounds or more.

"The declines we're presenting here are pretty modest, but it is a change in direction," said Heidi M. Blanck, one of the study's authors and the acting director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the disease centers. "We were going up before. And this data shows we're going down. For us, that's pretty exciting."


The study is published in the latest issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. Highlights from the study can be accessed free of charge at the CDC. Read more at The NY Times.