Falling Childhood Obesity Rates Bring Hope

After years of increases, obesity rates in children have fallen in a number of cities across the U.S., giving scientists hope that the crisis has begun to level off. Declines have been reported in New York; Philadelphia; Los Angeles; Kearny, Nebraska; and Anchorage, Alaska. The drops are small — 5% in Philadelphia, 3% in Los Angeles, for example — but experts are celebrating.

“It’s been nothing but bad news for 30 years,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City health commissioner, “so the fact that we have any good news is a big story.” The cause of the declines is uncertain. Some experts attribute part of the declines to effectiveness of anti-obesity campaigns. Others doubt such ads have any positive impact. In some cases, the decline is disproportionately helping certain groups. For example, in New York City, where the average rate of obesity fell 5.5% for children in kindergarten through eighth grade between the years of 2007 and 2011, the average rate of obesity among white students fell 12.5% while the same rate fell only 1.9% among black children. Experts urge caution before looking for a trend. “I’d like to see another year of measurement before I go out and party over this,” said Mary Currier, Mississippi’s state health officer.

Now the challenge is to figure out what’s really going on, why, and how to make broader progress.

Click here to read the New York Times story.

Toddler image © Steven H. Keys / Wikimedia Commons