Obesity Rates Among Young Children Nose-Dive

February 28, 2014
Mark L. Fuerst

Real progress may be taking place in the epidemic where it can have the most impact.

Real progress may be taking place in the obesity epidemic where it can have the most impact-among young children, according to a major federal health survey.

New CDC data show an encouraging development in obesity rates among 2- to 5-year-olds. Obesity prevalence for this age group dropped from nearly 14% in 2003-2004 to just more than 8% in 2011-2012, a 43% decline. This is based on the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data for nearly 12 million children.

“We continue to see signs that, for some children in this country, the scales are tipping. This report comes on the heels of previous CDC data that found a significant decline in obesity prevalence among low-income children aged 2 to 4 years participating in federal nutrition programs,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “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.”

Although the study does not specifically compare 2009-2010 with 2011-2012, NHANES data do show a decline in the 2- to 5-year-old age group during that period from just more than 12% in 2009-2010 to just more than 8% in 2011-2012. Studies show that overweight or obese preschoolers are 5 times as likely to become overweight or obese as their nonobese peers.

The latest NHANES obesity data indicate there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence among 2- to 19-year-olds or adults in the United States between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012. In fact, the figures for the broader society had remained flat and had even increased for women older than 60 years.

One-third of adults and 17% of youths are obese, the federal survey found. “Obesity prevalence remains high and thus it is important to continue surveillance,” concluded the researchers.

Several reasons have been proposed as to why obesity has declined among 2- to 5-year-olds. Many child-care centers have started to improve their nutrition and physical activity standards over the past few years. In addition, CDC data show decreases in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among youths in recent years. Another possible factor might be improvement in breast-feeding rates in the United States, which is beneficial to staving off obesity in breast-fed children.

“I am thrilled at the progress we’ve made over the past few years in obesity rates among our youngest Americans,” said Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States. “With the participation of kids, parents, and communities in Let's Move! these past 4 years, healthier habits are beginning to become the new norm.” The study findings were announced the same day Obama proposed new rules to limit the types of foods and beverages that can be advertised in schools.

The researchers published their results in the February 26, 2014, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Related Content:

Obesity