Created on: December 29, 2012
According to a group of researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity rates are falling for the first time in recent years. In the case of children from low-income groups, this is particularly good news because they are the hardest sections of the population to target. This is for the simple reason that cheap food is often the unhealthiest. Details of the study were published on December 26 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dr Pan Liping, who led the study, and his team looked at obesity data on over 26 million pre-school children between the age of 2 and 4. The children were enrolled in health programmes funded by the government between 1998 and 2010. As CBS News reports, this decline in obesity rates is being hailed as a moderate success story by Dr Pan, who writes:
"To our knowledge, 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 results of this study indicate modest recent progress of obesity prevention among young children.”
However, although the trend seems to be falling, officials are eager that parents don’t become too complacent, because of the health issues that obesity bring. As the CDC explains, 17% of children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese and obesity rates have almost tripled since 1980. For the purposes of the study, obesity was defined as a BMI in the 95th percentile.
As most people are aware, obesity can bring about a number of health risks, sometimes sooner rather than later. According to WebMD, someone who is obese is 40% more likely to die prematurely than someone of average weight and is at risk of heart disease, stroke, gout, diabetes, cancer and breathing problems. Of course, those with weight problems in their childhood are also more likely to suffer from emotional problems and bullying, so anything parents can do to keep their children’s weight at a healthy level has to be a good thing.
There are a number programmes at the national and state level that aim to encourage children, and indeed the population in general, to eat healthily and exercise. However, there are still calls for more to be done, particularly in the case of low-income families. An accompanying editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association called on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, perhaps better known as the Food Stamp Program, to change its mindset slightly from quantity to more nutritious food. Although it provides vital assistance for families unable to eat well, the program tends to encourage poor eating habits, thus contributing to the obesity problem.
Only time will tell if obesity rates will continue to decline. In the meantime, it can only be hoped that, along with the increase in research findings into obesity, people will become more aware of the risks that overweight children face.
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