Winning the Childhood Obesity Battle

By Lawrence Hardy

The headline could not have been more dramatic—or encouraging: “Obesity Rate for Young Children Plummets 43% in a Decade,” said the Feb. 25 edition of The New York Times. And while some experts were reluctant to draw conclusions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, others saw it as a milestone in the fight against an epidemic.

“I am thrilled at the progress we’ve made over the last few years in obesity rates among our youngest children,” said Michelle Obama in a statement accompanying the CDC report. Four years earlier, the first lady had launched her “Let’s Move!” campaign to combat childhood obesity by emphasizing healthy eating habits and exercise.

The CDC report came with a caveat: While obesity had plunged among 2- to 5-year-olds from 14 percent in 2004 to 8 percent in 2012, the rate for a larger age span of youth—ages 2 to 19—did not budge. Then, six weeks later, another report came out, this one from the University of North Carolina. It found that over a longer term—14 years—the obesity rate for 2- to 5-year-olds was also flat.

Both reports were right, in their own way. But together they begged a deeper question: Are we making any progress in reducing childhood obesity? And if progress is being made, what actions are contributing?

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