Little Kids Are Slimming Down

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control (NYT) shows that the obesity rate has fallen 43 percent in the last decade among two- to five-year-olds, while staying more or less the same for all other age groups. Ambers says this bodes well for these kids as they grow up:

A decrease in the growth rate of obesity among 2- to 5-year-olds is very good news because, by 5, a predisposition to obesity seems to be set. This means that, before most kids experience the ability to choose what foods they eat, something (genetics, environment, hormones, stress) has already determined they’ll be obese. Still, virtually all of the way that older kids interact with food is changing. Television advertising is changing. Public school cafeteria food is changing. Attitudes and awareness are changing. Restaurant experiences are changing. Science is changing. The study today suggests that the changes, collectively, are having no net effect just yet.

Zachary Goldfarb looks at some of the explanations the report gives for the decline:

Nutrition assistance such as food stamps and WIC (women, infants and children) may have led to decreases in childhood obesity among low-income Americans as federal standards have changed to promote healthier eating. For example, WIC has revised its funding formula to boost the amount of fruits and vegetables and peanut butter a mother and her child eat. At the time time, WIC has limited the amount of (non-breast) milk that a child drinks, to limit fat intake.

But Philip Bump worries that food insecurity might have something to do with it:

The USDA has data on the number of children who lived in households with food insecurity over the time period the CDC looked at as well as the number of households with children that experienced “very low” food security. … What we see is a dramatic increase in the number of kids living in households that had trouble finding enough to eat — right when the economy went south.

James Hamblin sees no cause for celebration here:

Lest we be lulled into the complacency that once allowed our cartoon characters to enjoy cookies without being reprimanded by their friends, best to consider that the actual conclusion of the study is that 17 percent of kids and more than one third of adults in the U.S. remain obese, and in the last ten years, the final line of the study says:

“Overall, there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults.”

At best we celebrate with cautious optimism over something of a leveling off. It’s not worse than it was, but it’s far from good.