- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Obesity rates among preschool children receiving government food aid are declining, national health experts note — a positive trend for the U.S., where the health condition remains prevalent.

Nearly 14% of children ages 2 to 4 years old in a supplemental nutrition program were obese in 2016, a drop from 16% in 2010, according to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Children with a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile for their age and sex on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) growth charts are considered obese.

“Although all U.S. children are at risk for obesity, childhood obesity is more common among children from lower-income families, as many lack access to healthy, affordable foods and beverages and opportunities for low-cost physical activity,” said Heidi Blanck, chief of obesity prevention at the CDC.

The JAMA article analyzed data from 12,187,779 children across the U.S. enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

From 2000 to 2010, obesity among low-income children enrolled in WIC increased significantly, from 14% in 2000 to 15.5% in 2004 to 15.9% in 2010, according to the CDC.

Dr. Blanck noted that while trends among 2- to 5-year-olds have been somewhat flat, overall obesity rates among youth have increased.

“Childhood obesity is a serious problem and affects 13.7 million US children. We are encouraged by these modest declines in obesity among low-income children enrolled in WIC, but the rates of child and adolescent obesity remains high overall and for young children aged two to four enrolled in WIC,” she said.

The latest national data from 2015-2016 suggests that almost 19% of America’s youth was obese, compared to almost 17% from 2007 to 2008 and 14% from 1999 to 2000.

Children with obesity are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, diabetes, breathing problems and joint issues. Obesity has been linked to lower self-esteem and psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.

“Because of the short and long-term health risks associated with obesity, it is important to continue to support obesity prevention efforts in our communities across the nation,” Dr. Blanck said.

To help combat childhood obesity, the CDC says early care and education systems among the states can promote standards to address nutrition, infant feeding, physical activity and screen time; schools can promote and sponsor salad bars; and food venues can offer healthy food and drink options.

While reasons for the decline in obesity among WIC children “remain undetermined,” the JAMA article says, the addition of more whole grains, fruits and vegetables to government food packages and local, state and national initiatives might play a role.

The study’s authors noted that fewer children were enrolled in the WIC in recent years.

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