Childhood Obesity on the Decline in Several U.S. Cities

For the first time in over 30 years, childhood obesity rates have dropped in many cities across America, both large (New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia) and small (Anchorage, Alaska, and Kearney, Nebraska). It's the first good news on the matter in decades.

While the decline has been small—between 3% and 5.5% from 2007 to 2011—experts say that the numbers could indicate a national shift "that is visible only in cities that routinely measure the height and weight of schoolchildren" (from which all of the data has been culled), and more importantly, that the epidemic could be "reversing course."

Researchers don't know what is behind the decline. Some Debbie Downers point out that it could simply mean that fewer obese children are enrolling in school (maybe being home schooled due to bullying?). Experts doubt that anti-obesity campaigns like Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" and similar advertising do little to help the problem, and say that institutionalized policies, like those in Philadelphia, are more effective:

Sugary drinks like sweetened iced tea, fruit punch and sports drinks started to disappear from school vending machines in 2004. A year later, new snack guidelines set calorie and fat limits, which reduced the size of snack foods like potato chips to single servings. By 2009, deep fryers were gone from cafeterias and whole milk had been replaced by one percent and skim.

It's been noted that the obesity rates have dropped in cities that have had obesity reduction policies in place for several years. About 17% of children under 20 are obese, according to the CDC, which defines childhood obesity as "a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile."

Image via Laborant/Shutterstock

Obesity in Young Is Seen as Falling in Several Cities [NYT]