The headlines have been all over the place on the new obesity study from the CDC, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Some have celebrated the situation, since obesity rates in very young children appear to have fallen over the last decade. But others have lamented the findings from the new report, since obesity rates for most adult have largely stalled, or even increased, over the same period. The truth is that most measures of obesity just haven’t changed very much in recent history. But if we ignore most people in the country, and just focus on 2-5 year old group, then it might be fair to say the situation is improving…somewhat.
Most groups that were analyzed in the study, which included 9,000 people, showed no significant differences from the years 2003-2004 and 2009-2010. Over 30% of adults and 17% of children are still obese, which is about what it was 10 years ago.
But there were two sub-groups that did change over the decade. One was obesity rates for older women (over 60), which rose from 31.5% to 38%.The other was obesity in children 2-5 years old, which decreased from 13.9% to 8%. This drop is the “43%” reduction in obesity that some of the media refer to in grabbing headlines.The CDC certainly seems encouraged about the drop in childhood obesity: “We continue to see signs that, for some children in this country, the scales are tipping,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “This report comes on the heels of previous CDC data that found a significant decline in obesity prevalence among low-income children aged 2 to 4 years participating in federal nutrition programs.”And the CDC quotes First Lady Michelle Obama, as saying, “I am thrilled at the progress we’ve made over the last few years in obesity rates among our youngest Americans.” She adds, “With the participation of kids, parents, and communities in Let’s Move! these last four years, healthier habits are beginning to become the new norm.”
It’s certainly possible that things are improving for very young children, as preschools are offering healthier food, and sugary drinks are losing popularity. But otherresearchers have argued that even for this young group, the trends are simply reflecting fluctuations in the samples over the years.
And for the rest of the country, the situation isn’t exactly encouraging. In fact, the study authors end their own piece with this summary: “Overall, there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012.”So, the bottom line is that we still have a very long way to go — hopefully things will change as we become more aware of the health risks of obesity, and of the ways in which we can change our behavior. But if we look just at what’s happening with the very young — after all, they will be teens and adults in the not-too-distant future — and take the data at face value, then it may be safe to say things are looking up, at least a little.