The number of low-income preschoolers who qualify as obese or “extremely obese” has dropped over the last decade, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.
Although the decline was only “modest” and may not apply to all children, researchers said it was still encouraging.
“It’s extremely important to make sure we’re monitoring obesity in this low-income group,” said the CDC’s Heidi Blanck, who worked on the study.
Those kids are known to be at higher risk of obesity than their well-off peers, in part because access to healthy food is often limited in poorer neighborhoods.
The new results can’t prove what’s behind the progress, Blanck told Reuters Health – but two possible contributors are higher rates of breastfeeding and rising awareness of the importance of physical activity even for very young kids.
Blanck and her colleagues used data on routine clinic visits for about half of all U.S. kids eligible for federal nutrition programs – including 27.5 million children between age two and four.
They found 13 percent of those preschoolers were obese in 1998. That grew to just above 15 percent in 2003, but dropped slightly below 15 percent in 2010, the most recent study year included.
Similarly, the prevalence of extreme obesity increased from nearly 1.8 percent in 1998 to 2.2 percent in 2003, then dropped back to just below 2.1 percent in 2010, the research team reported Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Whether kids are obese is determined by their body mass index (BMI) – a measure of weight in relation to height – and by their age and sex.