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Childhood Obesity Among Poor Declines in US

First lady Michelle Obama joins New Jersey school children to harvest the summer crop from White House kitchen garden, Washington, May 28, 2013.
After rising for decades, obesity rates among low-income children have declined in the United States.

Nineteen states and territories saw declines in obesity among children aged 2 to 4, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The declines ranged from 0.3 to 2.6 percentage points.

Even with the declines, however, one in eight U.S. preschoolers is obese.

“The decreases, though real, are really quite small," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden. "But given that rates have been increasing or at best flat for decades, we do think it’s good news.”

Obesity raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and obese children are five times more likely than normal weight children to be overweight as adults.

Researchers looked at about 12 million low-income children in three government aid programs from 2008 to 2011.

Although their study did not identify the cause for the declines, Frieden says changes in the largest of those programs was likely a factor. The nutrition program for women, infants and children known as WIC encouraged clients to make healthier choices, like buying whole fruits and vegetables rather than juice.

“And that’s very important because juice should only be had in real moderation," said Frieden. "It’s concentrated sugar, whereas whole fruits and vegetables are much healthier.”

Frieden also credited First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative for its focus on healthy eating and physical activity in preschools.

But with obesity rates as high as one in five among African American children and one in six among Hispanics, Frieden says there is still a long way to go.