Thin threads of hope regarding child obesity

There were encouraging signs this week pointing toward a possible turnaround in our nation’s childhood obesity epidemic. Obesity rates among low-income children ages 2 to 4 declined marginally in 19 states and U.S. territories from 2008 to 2011. That’s according to a study released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control.

That may not sound like big news, but it was the first time in decades that such a decline has been recorded.

However, the study wasn’t so promising for those of us in the Centennial State, which is the leanest state in the country in terms of overall population. Colorado was among three states that registered an increase in its percentage of obese preschool children from 2008 to 2011.

But officials with the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment say the state recorded a decline in the obesity rates for preschoolers in 2012, a year that was not included in the CDC study.

That’s encouraging and important because, even though Colorado has maintained its overall ranking as the nation’s leanest state, the population here is getting heavier. Moreover, we are far from the thinnest state when it comes to our children, ranked 23rd in childhood obesity.

Let’s hope the 2012 numbers are part of an ongoing trend that will continue to decline, not just for this age group, but for all children in Colorado.

The CDC attributed the decline in preschooler obesity in many states to three things.

First, it said changes made to the federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition program — known as WIC — beginning in 2009 have given more low-income families better access to fruit, vegetables and whole-grain food and have reduced consumption of sugary juices.

Additionally, the CDC said, public-awareness campaigns nationwide and separately in many states have educated more parents, including low-income ones, about the importance of providing healthy food for their children and of discouraging excessive consumption of sugars and fats.

Finally, the centers reported, increased breast-feeding of infants is also helping. Children who were breast-fed tend to be less prone to obesity, the CDC said.

Despite all this, serious problems remain. As CDC Director Thomas Frieden put it, this week’s report is “a bright spot for our nation’s young kids, but the fight is far from over.”

That’s why programs to encourage better nutrition and more exercise among youngsters — whether they come from first lady Michelle Obama, private businesses, schools or parents — remain so important.

Meanwhile, we can only hope this slender thread of good news is not an aberration, but an indication we are starting to turn the corner on what has become the nation’s No. 1 health problem.


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