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Obesity rates are down for children aged 2-5

Friday, February 28, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Though she doesn’t have local statistics, a health official said she suspects a national decline in obesity among children 2 to 5 years old is happening here, too.

Barbara Jackman, executive director of the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness, said there has been an early childhood focus among a number of community agencies and groups to promote good nutrition, physical activity and healthy weight.

The latest U.S. Centers for Disease Control obesity data, published in the Feb. 26 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), show a significant decline in obesity among children aged 2 to 5, according to a CDC news release.

Obesity prevalence for this age group went from nearly 14 percent in 2003-2004 to little more than 8 percent in 2011-2012 — a decline of 43 percent — based on CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data, the release stated.

“We continue to see signs that, for some children in this country, the scales are tipping.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,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in the release.

Although the precise reasons for the decline in obesity among 2- to 5-year-olds are not clear, many child care centers have started to improve their nutrition and physical activity standards over the past few years, the release stated. In addition, CDC data show decreases in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among youth in recent years. Another possible factor might be the improvement in breastfeeding rates in the United States, which is beneficial to staving off obesity.

Several local and regional officials said there has been an increased effort in this area to combat obesity.

“There’s a lot more focus on kids moving around, eating low-calorie and other healthful foods, drinking zero sugary drinks,” Jackman said. She and others also said there is more mass media coverage and public awareness about childhood obesity, and they think first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” Initiative, which promotes youth exercise and good nutrition, is helping.

Dr. Margaret “Molly” O’Dell, acting health director for the West Piedmont Health District, which includes Henry County and Martinsville, said more pediatricians are talking to parents about healthy weight and monitoring children’s body mass index.

Changes to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have improved access to healthful foods, she added.

Jackman and O’Dell said they were encouraged by the national decline in obesity for children aged 2-5 and said if the trend continues, it bodes well for the future.

“Some studies show the seeds or roots of obesity can start as young as 3 years old when habits are formed,” Jackman said.

The key is to prevent children from entering adulthood obese, because after that, their chances of having a healthy weight decline, O’Dell said.

Preschoolers who are overweight or obese are five times more likely to become overweight or obese adults than preschoolers who are not obese, according to a brochure by the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity, a project of ChangeLab Solutions, a nonprofit that provides legal information on matters relating to public health.

Brad Kinkema, CEO/executive director of the Martinsville/Henry County Family YMCA, said, “I can’t imagine we haven’t seen progress with all the efforts we’ve (agencies) been making” to promote exercise and good nutrition. For example, he mentioned the 95210 and Girls on the Run programs which stress healthy eating, exercise and self-image.

Smart Beginnings Martinsville Henry County recently sponsored a three-hour workshop for 48 child-care providers, and the focus was on providing healthful snacks and doing physical activities every day, Director Melanie McLarty said. “It was very well received,” she said.

Brenda Jordan, healthy beginnings coordinator at Smart Beginnings, said she works with personnel from the Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Coalition for Health and Wellness on a program in which healthful cooking classes are offered for families.

O’Dell said “it’s hard to monitor” childhood obesity at the local level because statistics are limited.

The Associated Press reported the main finding of the new national obesity study was that, overall, both adult and childhood obesity rates have held flat in the past decade. And there were no significant changes in most age groups.

But there were two exceptions: For some reason experts aren’t sure about, the obesity rate in women age 60 and older rose from 31.5 percent to more than 38 percent. And the preschool obesity rate dropped, the AP reported.

Jackman said she doubts the obesity rate in women age 60 and older has increased locally. “There are a lot of opportunities — exercise classes, trails — and a lot of participants in that age group,” she said.

“We still have a long ways to go in curbing the obesity problem,” Kinkema said. He is especially concerned about obese adults. “When people start realizing it’s affecting their pocketbook, when they get Type 2 diabetes and have to buy insulin, hopefully that will get them motivated” to lose weight, he said.


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