Some good news on the childhood obesity front: New research published Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that many states have recently begun to experience a decline — albeit a slight one — in the obesity rates of their low-income preschoolers.
Minnesota is among those states.
“Although obesity remains epidemic, the tide has begun to turn for some kids in some states,” CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a statement released with the report. “While the changes are small, for the first time in a generation they are going in the right direction.”
Preventing obesity in children is a major public health priority, both nationally and here in Minnesota. Research has shown that children who are obese tend to have more physical and emotional problems, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and depression. They are also five times more likely than other children to become overweight or obese as adults.
Currently, 12.1 percent — or about one in eight — low-income preschoolers in the United States is considered obese. That’s up from about 5 percent in 1980.
The CDC defines an obese child as one whose body mass index, or BMI, is within the top 5 percent of children the same age and gender.
A modest fall in Minnesota
Eighteen states in the CDC study experienced a drop between 2008 and 2011 in the prevalence of obesity among their low-income children aged 2 to 4 years. In Minnesota, the rate fell somewhat modestly — less than a percentage point over the three-year period of the study, from 13.4 percent in 2008 to 12.6 percent in 2011. Five states, including Minnesota’s neighbor to the west, South Dakota, scored better, with at least a 1 percent drop.
Twenty states, however, showed no decline, and three, including Minnesota’s eastern neighbor, Wisconsin, had an increase.
Ten states were not included in the study because of data inconsistencies during the years analyzed in the study. The data came from the Pediatric Nutritional Surveillance System.
The result of a variety of efforts
“We’ve been doing a variety of things on both the nutrition and physical activity level that I think are making a difference,” he said.
“We’ve made this progress by a lot of efforts by a lot of people in this state,” he added.
Ehlinger pointed to Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP), which was launched in 2008, as being particularly important in improving the health of low-income children. SHIP has supported a wide array of community-led projects designed to encourage more healthful eating, more physical activity and a reduction in tobacco use.
Ehlinger also cited the WIC program as having a major positive impact on the health — and obesity rates — of Minnesota’s low-income children. Currently, some 125,000 women and children receive WIC’s services in Minnesota.
With the recent increase in the number of Minnesota children living in poverty, “we need these programs more than ever,” he said.
A long-term commitment
Despite the hopeful declines described in this latest CDC report, the dramatic rise in obesity that has occurred among all age groups over the past three decades is not going to be turned around overnight, stressed Ehlinger.
“We have to have a commitment over a long period of time,” he said. “To really change the overall obesity rate in this state, it’s going to take a decade or more.”