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A welcome drop in childhood obesity

by Scripps Howard News Service on August 09, 2013 11:00 AM

Americans’ bad habits are notoriously hard to break. The teetotalers tried to cut out alcohol, but gave up after 13 years of Prohibition. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent efforts to get New Yorkers to cut down on oversize, sugary soft drinks were met with widespread ridicule.

But the campaigns to promote car seat-belt use and to discourage tobacco consumption made a difference.

Now there’s evidence of a national decline in childhood obesity, reversing a long-term trend. That’s good news for kids — and it forestalls many health problems in adulthood.

“For the first time, we’re seeing a significant decrease in childhood obesity,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been sounding the alarm on what it calls an “epidemic” seemingly forever.

The study, released this week, measured the height and weight of nearly 12 million low-income preschool children in 40 states from 2008 to 2011. Most of the subjects were children ages 2 through 4.

Most were enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food vouchers, now pared of fatty or excessively salty foods, and other health services.

The study’s authors acknowledged that data on higher-income children were missing, but that early-childhood obesity is disproportionately a problem for low-income children.

Not all states were measured, including Texas, known to have a significant childhood-obesity problem. Of the 40 states measured, 18 showed at least some improvement. The states with the biggest declines — Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey and South Dakota — did so by at least 1 percent.

The new WIC rules played a role, as did government pressure to reduce sweetened juice and saturated fat in youngsters’ diets.

The government also has developed programs to subsidize buying fresh fruits and vegetables.

A program called “Let’s Move,” led by first lady Michelle Obama, has helped campaigns to get preschools and day care centers to increase physically active playtime.

Sometimes, nagging by the nanny state works.

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