New national survey data shows that obesity rates in children aged two to five dropped 43% in the past decade, one of the first major improvements in an obesity epidemic that has cost millions of Americans their lives.
Early childhood obesity can lead to struggles with weight management, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke later in life. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), children who are overweight or obese between the ages of three and five are five times more likely to be obese as adults.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, drew data from 9,120 participants in the 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It showed that approximately 8% of young children were obese in 2012, compared to about 14% in 2004.
Researchers are not exactly sure why the nation’s youngest are getting thinner. Children appear to have been drinking fewer sugary beverages and eating fewer overall calories in recent years, but whether the degree of these changes could explain such a large drop is unclear. Experts quoted in The New York Times also stated that families with children have been choosing to purchase lower-calorie foods over the past decade. Increased public awareness about the subject and changes in federal food-subsidy programs that decreased funding for juice, cheese and eggs and increased it for fruits and vegetables may also have helped.
But not all news out of the report was as positive. Overall, obesity rates have not made significant progress and more women over 60 are obese now than they were a decade ago. The study reported that in total, about a third of American adults over age 20 and 17% of children between two and 20 years old are obese. Nevertheless, many experts are citing the improvement in young children as a good sign for the future.
To learn more about healthy living strategies for children and their families, you can turn to HealthCorps, an organization founded by Dr. Oz and his wife, Lisa.