For the first time in many years we are seeing some progress in the fight against childhood obesity in this country, according to a study. Although the changes are not yet very significant, there is hope that the epidemic is beginning to taper off.
For the study, nearly 12 million preschoolers from 40 states plus Washington D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico had their Body-Mass-Index (BMI) measured. Most came from low-income families who received assistance from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children(WIC), a federal program that gives grants to state-level health and nutrition aid projects.
The majority, 21 states, showed no significant changes in their current obesity rates, while 19 states had a slight decline, and 3 states registered an increase.
One in eight preschoolers (12.5 percent) in the U.S. is diagnosed as obese. Minorities are especially hard hit, with one in five African American and one in six Hispanic children being obese.
Childhood obesity is often considered a precursor of weight problems that persist throughout adolescence and adulthood, giving cause to multiple additional health issues, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But even in their earliest stages in life, obese children can suffer from some of these illnesses as well as learning disabilities and other developmental deficiencies.
The reason why it is so important to look closely at this particular demographic – young children with low-income background – is that they face barriers like limited access to healthy foods, limited places for safe physical activity, and limited educational resources about nutrition that cannot easily be overcome, said Dr. Lindy Christine Fenlason, director of the Pediatric Weight Management Clinic at Vanderbilt University, in an interview with NBC.
The CDC calls for action to be taken on all levels, national, state and local, to provide greater material and structural support for low-income families with overweight children. Far from being a sign of wealth and abundance, as it once may have been, obesity now affects the poor in far greater numbers than the well-off. Their children may be overfed but remain dangerously undernourished.
Civic leaders and government officials should make improvements in their districts and communities wherever they can to promote healthy eating and active living for everyone, the study report says. That includes making healthy foods more affordable and recreation spaces more accessible. Schools have a responsibility to facilitate sufficient physical activity during recess and PE classes.
And, most importantly, parents and childcare providers should maintain healthy standards at home and at daycare centers, not least by setting good examples.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter, on Facebook, Google+and on Pinterest.