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Vital Signs Blog

Obesity rates for some children nearly halved since 2003, CDC study shows

A glimmer of hope in the fight against childhood obesity emerged Tuesday with the release of a new government study.

The obesity rate for children between ages 2 and 5 fell to 8% in 2012 from 14% in 2003, according to the study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Despite the improvement within that specific age group, the study, published online Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found no significant change in the rate of obesity among American adults and youth overall. Approximately 35% of adults ages 20 and over were obese in 2012 with a body mass index at or above 30, which represented a 3 percentage point increase from the obesity rate in 2003 when it was at 32%, but a 1 percentage point decrease from the rate in 2009. A similar trend was found among young people between the ages of 2 and 19 years old, where 16.9% were found to be obese in 2012; a figure that has remained relatively unchanged compared with the rate in 2003.

“Although overall we didn't see any signs of significant change of obesity in youth and adults, there was some good news in that we saw a decrease within young children,” said study author Cynthia Ogden, an epidemiologist at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. “This is the first time since we've been tracking obesity that we've seen a decrease in any (age) group, so I think there's a small glimmer of hope there, but we still have a long way to go.”

The study did not provide a reason for the decline. The cause was most likely the result of a comprehensive set of efforts geared toward reducing the obesity rate among young children, according to Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“I think these comprehensive approaches that provide healthier environments where kids live and learn are the ones that seem to be most promising,” Lavizzo-Mourey said.

Increases in the promotion of healthier eating and more physical activity also have played a role, Lavizzo-Mourey noted.

“We continue to see signs that, for some children in this country, the scales are tipping,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden in a written statement. “This confirms that, at least for kids, we can turn the tide and begin to reverse the obesity epidemic.”

Today's figures come on the heels of a CDC study released last year that found that from 2008 to 2011, the obesity rate decreased slightly among low-income children between the ages of 2 and 4 years old in 19 states.

The findings drew praise from first lady Michelle Obama, who on Tuesday announced the Obama administration would propose new guidelines for school wellness policies that include prohibiting promotion of unhealthy food and beverages at public schools, and require parents and community member to get involved in those policies. Childhood obesity has been Mrs. Obama's signature issue for the past several years. She began developing her “Let's Move!” campaign in 2010.

“I am thrilled at the progress we've made over the last few years in obesity rates among our youngest Americans,” Mrs. Obama said in a written statement. “With the participation of kids, parents and communities in 'Let's Move!' these last four years, healthier habits are beginning to become the new norm.”

Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHSjohnson






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