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After marked drop in preschooler obesity rate, a look at the changing obesity landscape for kids

By Leanne Italie

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 26 2014 3:07 p.m. MST

In this Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 file photo, Oumou Balde, 4, left, plays with her teacher Jacqualine Sanchez, right, and pretend food in a pre-kindergarten class at the Sheltering Arms Learning Center in New York in a program to educate children about nutrition and health.

Seth Wenig, File, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Is the anti-obesity message finally getting through?

A marked drop in the obesity rate among preschoolers in the U.S. has researchers and parents pointing to a variety of possible factors.

Among them: public-awareness campaigns to get parents to serve healthier food to their children; a drop in soda consumption; healthier menus at fast-food chains; more access to fruits and vegetables in some neighborhoods; changes in government food aid; and longer breast-feeding, which is often associated with improved weight control.

"We're not done yet, but this does show that parents really need to be the commanders of their own ship and manage the food environment for their kids at home," said Keith Ayoob, a registered dietitian and associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.

The glimmer of hope was contained in a government report issued Tuesday that showed that the obesity rate among children 2 to 5 years old dropped by nearly half over a decade, from 14 percent to 8 percent. That is encouraging in part because obese preschoolers are more likely to be obese as they get older.

Overall, though, both adult and childhood obesity rates have been flat in the past decade, and dietitians, weight experts and doctors warned that the problem is not going away.

"This is the problem of our generation. We are starting to make some progress, but there's really still a lot more to do," said Scott Kahan, an obesity treatment and prevention specialist and public health researcher at George Washington University.

For example, while first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign and other efforts over the past 10 years have raised awareness, stumbling blocks remain for the poor and for working parents.

"They know their children should be more active, but it's hard for them to get them to the park. They're tired, and it's complicated," said Sarah Barlow, director of the Center for Childhood Obesity at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston and an associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. "It's an ordeal to get out of the house."

Here's a look at the changing health-related landscape that may have contributed to the drop in preschool obesity:

PARENTS SETTING THE EXAMPLE

Sherlyn Pang Luedtke, a parenting coach, said she parents can improve their children's eating habits, even if their own were less than stellar.

"I was raised eating fried eggs and rice almost every day for breakfast," said Luedtke, who grew up near downtown Los Angeles and now lives in the suburban San Fernando Valley.

She and her husband have a 9-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, and the family sticks mostly to vegetarian fare.

"We have smoothies with greens, flaxseed and blueberries with breakfast. We eat whole-grain products," she said. "We feel great about our health choices that we model for our kids."

Lyndsay Meyer is a first-time mom of a 16-month-old son, living just outside Washington, D.C. She and her husband have not fed their child any processed sugar. His first birthday cake was made with bananas and applesauce. They feed him only whole foods and try to stick to organic ones.

"It's growing increasingly difficult, though, as he makes friends and goes to parties or on play dates," she said. "It's also difficult to go out with him because most places don't offer good, healthy food for toddlers."

SUGARY DRINKS

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