After decades of presenting disheartening data regarding childhood obesity rates, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finally has some good news. A CDC study conducted by Dr. Liping Pan, MD, MPH of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity revealed that though obesity rates among low-income families were on the upswing between 2000 and 2010, they’ve dropped for preschoolers since then.
Pan and her team of researchers pulled data from the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) federal assistance program’s Participant and Program Characteristics Report. The goal of the study was to determine the prevalence rates of obesity among children from low-income families, identify priority action areas and monitor progress over time.
During the 2000-2010 biennial census, the CDC found the overall obesity rate among children of low-income families enrolled in the WIC program had increased significantly since the start of the millennium. The first noteworthy increase occurred in 2004, when the prevalence climbed from 14% to 15.5% in just four years. In 2010, the obesity rates among low-income children was at 15.9%.
When Pan and her team reviewed the WIC PC report again in 2016, their findings were more uplifting. Obesity rates in preschoolers — those between the ages of two and four—had declined since 2010 to 13.9%. This comes on the heels of a study from the National Heart Blood and Lung Institute (NHBLI) that found cholesterol levels in kids have been dropping, as well, though that study noted obesity remained a problem.
Improvements in Program Food Offerings
WIC’s overreaching goal is to encourage healthy eating among infants and children up to the age of five, as well as pregnant, low-income women. As with any federal program, trial and error is necessary to yield substantial improvements. In light of the aforementioned findings, it seems as if program directors are on the right track.
According to Dr. William Dietz, a former CDC obesity expert, the program has made several improvements in its food options in the years leading up to the decline. Some improvements involved adding more whole grains, fruits and vegetables to the offerings, while others included cutting the amount of juice allowed and switching from high- to low-fat milk. Dietz estimates the latter two improvements alone likely resulted in 9,000 fewer calories per month for enrolled children.
While many children are still heavy, Dietz tells The Associated Press, “The changes are meaningful and substantial.”
Fast Food and Restaurant Chains
Though findings do suggest obesity rates are highest among low-income children, additional research found children’s meal options at fast food and sit-down restaurants may contribute to childhood obesity.
“We compared the nutritional value of kids’ menus to [adult menus] in [select] establishments and found that most of the meals offered to children did not comply with the US Dietary requirements,” Dr. Luz Claudio, Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine who conducted the study, says. She explained to Parentology that, according to the study’s findings, the majority of meal options for children had fat, sodium and saturated fat contents that exceeded daily meal recommendations. They were also low in fiber.
“Based on those studies,” Claudio says, “I recommend families avoid eating out with children. When they do, they may choose to share an adult entre with their child or share a side dish such as a vegetable or salad. These habits will not only save them money, but also be a more nutritionally-balanced option for the children and serve as a teachable moment [in which] healthy choices can be discussed.”
Study on Obesity Rates in Preschoolers — Sources
Dr. Luz Claudio, Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine
The Associated Press
Journal of American Medical Association
National Institutes of Health