Decline in obesity rate starting to be seen in poor children

After years of growing concern about obesity among children, federal researchers have found the clearest evidence yet that the epidemic may be turning a corner in young children from low-income families.

The obesity rate among preschool-age children from poor families fell in 19 states and United States territories between 2008 and 2011, federal health officials said Tuesday — the first time a major government report has shown a consistent pattern of decline for low-income children after decades of rising rates…

Children from poor families have had some of the nation’s highest rates of obesity. One in eight preschoolers in the United States is obese. Among low-income children, it is one in seven. The rate is much higher for blacks (one in five) and for Hispanics (one in six).

Several cities have reported modest drops among school-age children, offering hints of a change in course. But gains were concentrated among whites and children from middle- and upper-income families, and were not consistent across the country…

The cause of the decline remains a mystery, but researchers offered theories, like an increase in breast-feeding, a drop in calories from sugary drinks, and changes in the food offered in federal nutrition programs for women and children. In interviews, parents suggested that they have become more educated in recent years, and so are more aware of their families’ eating habits and of the health problems that can come with being overweight…

The new report, based on the country’s largest set of health data for children, used weight and height measurements from 12 million children ages 2 to 4 who participate in federally funded nutrition programs, to provide the most detailed picture of obesity among low-income Americans…

Children now consume fewer calories from sugary beverages than they did in 1999, Dr. Blanck said. More women are breast-feeding, which can lead to healthier weight gain for young children. Federal researchers have also chronicled a drop in overall calories for children in the past decade, down by 7 percent for boys and 4 percent for girls…

Another explanation is that some combination of state, local and federal policies aimed at reducing obesity is starting to have an effect. Michelle Obama has led a push to change young children’s eating and exercise habits and 10,000 child care centers across the country have signed on…

“People look at Head Start moms and say, ‘Oh they’re just low income and that’s it,’ ” Shannon Freeland said. “I think parents have changed. Our income may still be low, but we’re more educated.”

And parents are changing. I’m as much a product of cultural stereotypes as any other workingclass activist. You get pretty fed up after decades of trying to get your peers to see the facts that are hidden underneath corporate ideology, sloganeering from the two TweedleDeeDumb parties.

Fact is, though, that moms want their kids to live longer and healthier – and even with the constraints of American-style poverty there’s a chance at better knowledge about nutrition, healthful eating, exercise, time spent in healthful childhood pursuits. Some of it is finally getting on TV, more than just PBS. A lot is on the Web and more and more parents are learning how to search.

There’s plenty of good folks looking for a magic bullet. But, Life ain’t a Walt Disney movie. But, the sum of a collection of repairs seems to be getting better all the time. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

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