Monday December 31, 2012

The Republican of Springfield (Mass.), Dec. 28, 2012

It looks like 2013 might shape up to be a significant year in the fight against childhood obesity.

Indeed, there’s cause for celebration in the ongoing battle against childhood obesity with this week’s release of a new study indicating that the epidemic is slowing among 2- to 4-year-olds from poor families.

A new national study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- based on data from 30 states and the District of Columbia -- found that the obesity rate among these high-risk children declined to 14.9 percent in 2010 from 15.2 percent in 2003.

While the drop in obesity rates among the 27 million children who are part of the federal Women, Infants and Children program was modest, researchers say any improvement is meaningful because this population is disproportionately at risk.

For example, 20 percent of poor children are obese, compared with about 12 percent from more affluent families, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heidi M. Blanck, one of the study’s authors, said the change in direction is a healthy sign. "We were going up before. And this data shows we’re going down. For us, that’s pretty exciting."

It’s unclear what sparked the decline. But Dr. Blanck said an increase in breast-feeding among low-income families -- from 28 percent in 1980 to 66 percent in 2011 -- is significant. Studies have shown that breast-feeding often leads to healthier weight gain for young children.

Among other factors that might explain the decline is drop in the amount of money spent on food marketing to children, she said. Remember those "Sugar Pops are Tops" ads of another generation? First lady Michelle Obama’s "Let’s Move! Child Care" initiative, which helps child care centers serve healthier food and include physical activity throughout the day is also helping the cause, Blanck said.

Health care experts believe a broad-based approach to the obesity fight is what is needed. We do too.

So let’s toast to the New Year with a glass of low-fat milk.