Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced this week that for the first time there is clear evidence that the childhood obesity epidemic may be turning a corner, particularly in children from low-income families.
The rate of obesity in pre-school children from impoverished backgrounds fell in 19 states between 2008 and 2011, and remained stable in many other states. Only three states showed increased rates. It was the first time federal researchers have shown a consistent decline in obesity rates among low-income children. The government had noted a similar decline in December, but lacked a geographic pattern to see if this was a one time occurrence or a trend.
The new data is incredibly important in the fight against childhood obesity, because children from poor families have had some of the nation’s highest rates of obesity. One in eight preschoolers in the United States is obese, with rates among low-income children around one in seven. There is also a large racial disparity, as the rate among black children is one in five, while for Hispanics it is one in six.
No one is really sure why the decline occurred, but researchers theorize that increased rates of breast-feeding, a decline in consumption of sugary drinks, and changes to food options covered by programs like WIC and SNAP may be contributing.
The cause of the decline remains a mystery, but researchers offered theories, like an increase rate of breast-feeding, a drop in calories from sugary drinks, and changes in the food offered in federal nutrition programs for women and children. In interviews, parents suggested that they have become more educated in recent years, and so are more aware of their families’ eating habits and of the health problems that can come with being overweight.
I’m personally skeptical that kids truly are consuming less sugary beverages, and though researchers noted that kids are consuming 4-7% less overall calories over the last decade, that amount doesn’t explain this trend. Whatever the reason, the decline in obesity rates particularly among children from low-income families is an encouraging sign that the scales are tipping in favor of our childrens’ future.