Sabrina Tavernise gives us a reason to celebrate:

Federal health authorities on Tuesday reported a stunning 43 percent drop in the obesity rate among 2- to 5-year-old children over the past decade, the first broad decline in an epidemic that often leads to lifelong struggles with weight and higher risks for cancer, heart disease and stroke.

The drop emerged from a major federal health survey that experts say is the gold standard for evidence on what Americans weigh. The trend came as a welcome surprise to researchers. New evidence has shown that obesity takes hold young: Children who are overweight or obese between age 3 and 5 are five times as likely to be overweight or obese as adults.

Decreasing obesity rates in young children has been Michelle Obama’s mission since she started her “Let’s Move” campaign to change eating and exercise habits among America’s youth.  And the First Lady sounds pleased:

“I am thrilled at the progress we’ve made over the last few years in obesity rates among our youngest Americans.”

James Hamblin, M.D. throws cold water onto the celebration:

It’s true that there was a substantial decrease in the obesity rate among a small age group, kids ages two to five. It fell from 14 to 8 percent (the aforementioned 43 percent). But rates among teenagers increased, and overall rates did not change; they just plateaued.

Indeed, for most ages — infants and toddlers under two, school-aged children, teens, and adults — obesity rates stayed steady. Women over 60 saw a sharp increase in their obesity rates.  Here are the obesity rates in the United States in 2012 by age:

  • 0-2 years = 8.1 %
  • 2-5 years = 8.4 %
  • 2-19 years = 16.9 %
  • 20+ years = 34.9 %

 

Only the 2-5 year-old age group saw a decrease from 13.9% to 8.4%.  And since that age group went down, children between 5-19 years old saw a significant increase in obesity (to keep the 2-19 year-old group unchanged).  As a result, the JAMA study concludes:

Overall, there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012. Obesity prevalence remains high and thus it is important to continue surveillance.

 

Jacque Wilson highlights the steps the Obama administration has taken in addition to “Let’s Move” to confront the obesity epidemic:

In December 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law, which was designed to encourage better eating habits in schools by giving the federal government more authority to set standard for food sold on school grounds. The $4.5 billion act provided more money to subsidize free meals and help administrators offset the higher costs of including more fruits and vegetables in school lunches.

Then in June 2011, the USDA dismantled the traditional food pyramid and replaced it with a new icon called MyPlate. The plate emphasizes fruits and vegetables, telling Americans to fill half of every plate they eat with produce. Another quarter of the plate should be lean protein; the last quarter should be whole grains. A small portion of dairy — perhaps a glass of low-fat milk — can be added on the side.

 

So it seems like these changes are starting to have the desired effect — at least for preschoolers.  The rest of us have a long way to go.

More on MyPlate here.