Preschool-aged children show signs of reversing an obesity trend, according to a research letter published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In the letter, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported results of a 2010 study that found the rate of obesity dropped nearly 2 percent from 2003 to 2010 in children ages 2 to 4 from low-income families.
Also promising was the decline in extreme obesity, which fell from 2.2 percent to 2.07 percent during the same time after increasing steadily since 1998.
Researchers, which included Dr. Liping Pan with the CDC, noted that cases of extreme obesity are not as prevalent in national data, which is why studied information on the disease is not widely available. Their data came from the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System that included 30 states and nearly 27 million — or 50 percent of — children who are eligible for federally funded programs.
“As far as seeing a decline in my practice, I have not noticed that personally, but I can see why the CDC sees a decline in that age,” said Dr. Ayman Arouse, a pediatrician on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Cleburne. “The schools having healthy choices, the parents being aware and the community being aware of the issue itself ... is paying off. It’s a topic people are aware of, so you see a decline in that age.”
The study also listed an increase in breast-feeding as a reason for healthier weights.
“I agree,” Arouse said. “In places where you have had more people in the community breast feeding, you see a decline in obesity, healthy babies and proper weight gain. A lot of ladies committed to breast-feeding don’t introduce juice and solid foods as early.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breast-feeding babies until about 6 months.”
Reasons for declining obesity rates include healthier snack and meal options served at day cares and schools, as well as a push for healthier drinks with less sugar and fat-free milk, Arouse said.
Parents concerned about risks associated with obesity, including heart disease, diabetes and other organ failures may also have played a role in keeping their children’s weight down.
“You see those kinds of trends in recognizing these chronic diseases,” Arouse said. “I think as a society, we’ve been aware of the issues more.”
Pan and colleagues said the study was the first to show that the prevalence of both obesity and extreme obesity may be finally turning around. The results are promising, Arouse said, adding that parents and children are beginning to be more open about their eating and exercise habits as the trend turns toward healthier lifestyles.