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US reports 43% drop in the obesity rate among 2-5year old children

18/03/2014

A recent survey carried out by US public health authorities has shown that there has been a 43% drop in the obesity rates for US children living in the United states between the ages of two and five years old. The researcher at the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Public Health Service report that in 2003 the prevalence of obesity for each age group was 14% and just under a decade later in 2012, this figure has fallen to just above 8%.

Welcome news – are we turning the corner of the child obesity epidemic?

Child obesity is associated with a wide range of health and psychosocial problems in childhood such as respiratory disorders, high blood pressure and musculoskeletal disorders and children are at a greater risk of developing diabetes types 1 and 2. Obese children are more likely to experience psychological or psychiatric problems than non-obese children and it is linked to poorer health outcomes in adulthood with the development of comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease.  Children who are overweight at aged three to five years old are also more likely to become overweight or obese adults.  With these factors in mind this first evidence of a decline in the child obesity epidemic has been very welcome news to researchers. Whilst researchers remain cautious to note that the very young children (aged two-five) only make up a small section of America’s population- nevertheless this is an exciting indication that the lower obesity rates for children are dropping.

Why is this decline happening?

There are mixed views as to why this decline has taken place.  Some have suggested that children are consuming fewer calories in sugary drinks, some have thought it is linked to more mothers breastfeeding their children which leads to healthier weight gain in children. There has been a recorded fall in the total number of calories which children intake over the last decade but it is unclear whether this drop is significant. It is also possible that Federal, state and local programmes aimed to promote healthy eating and exercise may be finally having an effect.

Whilst this is promising evidence there is still a need to collate more evidence of decline in child obesity across the age ranges. Dr Jeffrey P. Koplan (a professor of medicine and public health at Emory University in Atlanta) highlighted the need for caution in a New York Times article because the age group surveyed was only a small portion of US society: “The weight of evidence is becoming more marked,” but “one blossom doesn’t make a spring.”

What this means for Europe

The epidemic in child obesity is not just an American problem- it is a burden shared in Europe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reportspdf that up to 27% of 13-year-olds and 33% of 11-year olds are overweight in Europe. The report notes that France and Scandinavian countries have at least been able to keep child obesity levels stable by implementing policies which promote healthy eating, taxes on certain foods, advertising restrictions and programmes to encourage and promote physical activity. What this US evidence does show is that with continued effort to support intervention programmes to promote healthy lifestyles for children, Europe too could see a decline in the levels of child obesity.

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