The Times West Virginian

Opinion

February 28, 2014

Even small steps play part in critical mission to reduce childhood obesity

Just two years ago, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese, meaning they had excess body weight based on their height.

It’s a troubling statistic, and one that health officials have worked diligently to reverse.

A report earlier this week suggests those efforts might be working.

On Wednesday, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that childhood obesity in children ranging in age from 2 to 5 has fallen from 13.9 percent in 2003-04 to 8.4 percent in 2011-12.

While this particular age was the only group to see a significant decline, it’s causing people to take notice. Why? Because it raises hopes that these children will remain at healthy weights as they get older.

Consider the potential risks overweight and obese children face. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obese children are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. They’re also more likely to have pre-diabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes, and they’re at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems.

And those are only the short-term effects. Looking even further ahead, the CDC points out that children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer and osteoarthritis.

That’s why the report from the Journal of the American Medical Association is so encouraging.

And although the paper doesn’t say why childhood obesity is declining, it does point to six possible reasons:

• Nutrition assistance such as food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) may have led to decreases in childhood obesity among low-income Americans as federal standards have changed to promote healthier eating.

• New federal nutritional guidelines have trickled down to state and local programs, such as encouraging increased consumption of water, limiting serving sizes and limiting time in front of the television.

• As the value of breastfeeding has been increasingly understood, there’s been a substantial increase in babies drinking breastmilk.

• Pregnant women have increasingly understood the risks of smoking during pregnancy.

• Food companies have limited television advertisements targeting children.

• A number of national initiatives, such as first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” program, have promoted healthy eating among children.

Any effort that helps children lead healthier lives is an effort worth pursuing. This week’s report shows that even small steps work, and we’re hopeful that continued efforts will lead to a decreased obesity rate in every age group.

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Opinion
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