April 26, 2016

Obesity Trends for Young Children Continue to Show Progress

Today, a new paper, Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity in US Children, 1999-2014, published in the journal Obesity, suggests that child obesity rates are continuing to rise and that there is no evidence of a decline in obesity prevalence among any age group.  This analysis is accurate if you look at trends since 1999.  However, as Dr. William Dietz documents in an accompanying editorial, several other high-quality studies have accurately reported that childhood obesity rates have stopped rising and rates for children ages 2-5 have declined since 2003.

We believe the evidence is clear: some progress has been made in reducing rates for young children and the decades-long rise in rates for all children and adolescents has stopped.  This progress is good news and shows that we are starting to do something right in preventing child obesity.  But the overwhelming reality that is clear from reviewing all of the evidence is that child obesity rates remain unacceptably high.  Flattening an outrageously high prevalence rate is not even close to being good enough.  If we do not bring those rates down substantially, millions of our children will remain headed on a direct course to early onset of deadly chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension, and national health care costs will continue to spiral out of control.

Too many of our children still lack the means to grow up healthy, and racial and ethnic disparities in obesity persist. We need to double down on collective efforts to prevent child obesity.  The Alliance for a Healthier Generation works with schools, afterschool and summer programs, community leaders, and the corporate sector to ensure that the environments that surround children provide and promote good health. Rigorous evaluations have documented the impact of our work:  for example, our 2006 agreement with the beverage industry led to a 90% reduction in beverage calories shipped to schools and the extent of participation in our Healthy Schools Program is associated with reductions in student rates of obesity and overweight. These kinds of initiatives need to be reinforced and expanded.

As a nation, we can and we must do better to make sure that the next generation is a healthier generation.