Concord, NH - A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found modest declines in obesity among 2- to 4-year-old children from low-income families, a dip that CDC researchers say may indicate that the obesity epidemic has passed its peak among this group.
The study reviewed height and weight measurements of 27 million children who were part of the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program, including more than 20,000 preschoolers annually enrolled in the New Hampshire WIC Program in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Public Health Services. The study was based on data from 30 states and the District of Columbia and covered the years from 1998 to 2010. The national rate of children who were obese declined to 14.9 percent in 2010, down from 15.2 percent in 2003, after rising between 1998 and 2003.
In New Hampshire, the rate of children in the WIC Program who were obese declined to 14.2 percent in 2010, down from 15.6 percent in 2003. Rates of overweight also decreased to 17.1 percent in 2010, down from 19.4 percent in 2003. Obesity is defined as BMI-for-age equal to or greater than the 95th percentile, and overweight is defined as BMI-for-age between the 85th to 95th percentiles.
“The declines in obesity and overweight among these children are modest, but it is encouraging to see a change in the right direction,” said Dr. José Montero, director of Public Health at DHHS. “We are hopeful that this is a sign that one of New Hampshire’s health problems may be reversing course, at least among children.”
Several reasons are speculated for the changes, including:
- Breastfeeding, which often leads to healthier weight gain for young children, has increased in New Hampshire since 2000. The percentage of 6-month-olds still being breast-fed increased to 22.7 percent among children born in 2010, up from 18.0 percent among children born in 2000.
- Breastfeeding of infants from low-income families in New Hampshire has risen over the years. In 1984, only 47 percent of infants from those families had ever been breast-fed, compared with 71 percent in 2010.
- The amount of money spent nationally on food marketing to children has declined by nearly 20 percent from 2006 to 2009, with the biggest drop in television advertising, according to the CDC.
- Changes in the WIC Program foods, including less fruit juice and more fruits and vegetables, which began in late 2009 may also have a slight effect, which will be evident in future years.