Decline in Obesity for Young Children in Low-Income Communities

Obesity rates declined among two to four year olds in poor families.

ByABC News
December 27, 2012, 12:28 PM

Dec. 27, 2012 — -- A recent study found that obesity rates have declined among two to four year olds in poor families across the United States, a finding which is one of the first hopeful indicators in the fight against the obesity epidemic in low-income communities.

Conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), the study shows that the percentage of children between the ages of two and four who were obese fell to 14.9 percent in 2010 from 15.2 percent in 2003. This shift came after rates rapidly increased between 1998 and 2003. The study, published on Wednesday, also found that extreme obesity had declined within the same demographic, falling to 2.07 percent in 2010 from 2.22 percent in 2003. The findings were based on polling data from 30 states and spanned from 1998 to 2010.

Hispanics were counted among the groups that experienced modest declines in obesity within this age group. This marks the reversal of a startling trend in the Latino community where 38.2 percent of Latino children between the ages of 2 and 19 are either overweight or obese, according to a study conducted by the Leadership for Healthy Communities in 2010. In comparison, 31.7 percent of all children fell within the same categorization.

Despite the modest decline in early childhood obesity, Latino youth still suffer from alarming rates of diabetes and are more likely to be overweight or obese than the general population. Low-income families are also disproportionately at risk. A recent study by research affiliates with the American Diabetes Association found that Latino children have the fastest growing rate of diabetes of any ethnic group in the country.

Last year, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) reported that half of all Latino children born in 2000 would develop diabetes in their childhood.

"That is the statistic that should be our wake-up call," Jennifer Ng'andu, the deputy director of the council's health policy project, told The Huffington Post.

Still, the declines indicated in the CDCP's recent study may offer insight into how to curb the obesity epidemic. While scientists are hesitant to say definitively what has caused the recent decline, Heidi M. Blanck, one of the study's authors and the director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the CDCP, offered a few hypotheses in an interview with The New York Times.

The practice of breastfeeding, which tends to lead to healthier weight gain for young children, has increased in low-income families since 2000, Blanck said. In addition, marketers have spent less money advertising sugary foods to youth in recent years. Also, cereals marketed to children in 2009 were slightly less sugary, and contained a bit more whole grain than those marketed in 2006. Finally, Blanck said she was hopeful that national initiatives to curb childhood obesity, including Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, would help further the recent declines.

"The declines we're presenting here are pretty modest, but it is a change in direction," she said. "For us, [the new data] is pretty exciting."