Blog: The Educated Reporter

Follow-Up Friday: Childhood Obesity Rate Drops

There was some good news for a change when it comes to the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic: the rate among preschoolers dropped in 18 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the first decline on record in decades, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Although obesity remains epidemic, the tide has begun to turn for some kids in some states,” said Thomas Frieden, the CDC’s director, said in call with reporters. “While the changes are small, for the first time in a generation they are going in the right direction.”

Experts say it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why the numbers improved in so many states, but is likely due to a greater awareness among families about the risks of very young children being overweight, as well as a multitude of campaigns and outreach efforts at the local, state and national level. (For more on the CDC report’s findings for black and Hispanic preschoolers, check out the Latino Ed Beat blog.)

At the same time, no one is suggesting the decline — between 2008 and 2011 — means the battle has been won. In fact, far from it. James Marks, senior vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropy which focuses on public health issues, told USA Today that ”It’s great news, but it’s too early to say that I feel confident that we are securely on the path to improvement.” He added that the results were surprising “because of the speed at which the epidemic appears to be turning around.”

As I wrote last week, much attention is being focused on the role of schools in addressing childhood obesity, including the feds’ plan to crack down on junk food sales to students with stricter new rules set to take effect in the fall of 2014. The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation had a thoughtful response to my original post, which you can read it here.