Child obesity thinning down

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

IT'S A FACT: One in every eight American preschoolers and one in six older children and teens are obese. But finally, after more than three decades of steady escalation, childhood obesity numbers are coming down!

Last fall, a study showed the first glimmer of hope: that the rates were falling in American cities, including Philly - down 5 percent.

Now, a study released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a decline in obesity rates among low-income preschoolers in 19 of the 43 U.S. states and territories studied. (But, alas, not in Pennsylvania, where the preschool obesity numbers are still rising. In the new study, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Colorado were the only three states posting increases.)

So, has first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative - combined with state and local government programs designed to help parents improve their kids' diet and exercise habits - finally started taking root?

Or maybe it's the increase in breastfeeding that's behind the encouraging numbers for low-income preschoolers. Or the WIC program's new emphasis on eating fresh fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy. Or the documented drop in the amount of calories that kids get from sugary drinks.

It could be that parents have just seen enough of the toll that obesity and diabetes take on the people around them, and they want a better future for their kids. Obese children are more likely to become obese adults and face a life of disease, disability and even premature death.

Although the experts can't say precisely what's responsible for the decline in childhood obesity rates, a turnaround seems to be taking hold.

The bottom line: Who cares about who gets the credit? Let's just keep the momentum going.

"What I do every day is make it a part of the daily discussion," said Dr. Elana McDonald, at Memphis Street Pediatrics, in North Philadelphia. "We know better. We have to do better. Let's get moving with jump ropes, swimming, outdoor activities."

Although Dr. McDonald has not seen a huge dent in childhood obesity at her practice, she remains encouraged. "Hopefully, we can keep the awareness up and slow it down," she said.

I agree! While there's work to be done, it's a good start.


Kimberly Garrison is a wellness coach and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia. Her column appears Wednesdays.