Editorial: New data provide encouragement in battle against childhood obesity

Aug. 10, 2013 @ 11:54 PM

Even as some people doubt global warming or that Oswald acted alone, nobody questions the alarming childhood obesity problem in the country. There have been warnings about the consequences, while many have pushed a more nutritious diet, exercise and a concerted effort of government and the private sector to address it. Now some encouraging news.

In 18 states — not Tennessee — there were slight drops in obesity for low-income preschoolers, health officials said last week. After decades on the rise, childhood obesity rates have recently been flat. Philadelphia, New York City and Mississippi reported improvements in the last couple of years. The report from the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention shows signs of progress.

“Now, for the first time, we’re seeing a significant decrease in childhood obesity” nationally, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director.

This is a cautionary tale. The rates are still dangerously high. One in 8 preschoolers is obese in the United States. Obesity continues to be one of the nation’s leading public health problems. A third of U.S. children and teens and more than two-thirds of adults are obese or overweight. That leads to substantial health problems.

But take the latest news as a sign that maybe, just maybe, the country is getting the message. Burgers and fries are tasty, but not helpful every day. Fast food is a treat, but should not be a steady diet. Parents find preschoolers easier to feed what they want instead of what they need. But those who are overweight or obese are five times more likely than other children to be heavy as adults, which means greater risks of high cholesterol, high blood sugar, asthma and even mental health problems.

Tuesday’s study used height and weight measurements from nearly 12 million low-income children in 40 states. The data was collected from 2008 through 2011. Most of the children ages 2 to 4 were enrolled in the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program which provides food vouchers and other services. Experts say low-income kids tend to be heavier.

So these are baby steps in solving an epidemic. The eat-your-peas philosophy may make some cringe, but if it works, then we'll have healthier children and healthier adults.