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Obesity Rate for Young Kids Dips Dramatically

Obesity rates for children plummeting
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

It looks like we're moving in the right direction in the fight against childhood obesity: Results from a new federal health survey have revealed that obesity among 2- to 5-year-olds dropped an impressive 43 percent in the last decade. (We're sure the First Lady is pretty psyched to hear this news.)

This stat has researchers (and parents) breathing a sigh of relief, considering that obesity has been found to take hold of our kids at younger and younger ages. In fact, experts say that overweight 3- to 5-year-olds are five times as likely to be obese adults. Hence the importance of establishing healthy habits early.

While other studies have shown modest improvements in childhood obesity over the last few years, The New York Times notes that this latest federal health survey was far more thorough, and considered a "gold standard" among experts in terms of evidence of what Americans truly weigh.

The study also revealed that while 8 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds were obese in 2012, that figure was down 14 percent from 2004.

“This is the first time we’ve seen any indication of any significant decrease in any group,” said Cynthia L. Ogden, a researcher for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ogden is also the lead author of the report, which will be published in full this week in JAMA. “It was exciting,” Ogden said.

As for what's behind the dramatic shift, experts can't say for sure, but there are several contributing factors they say have had a big impact on national health. For one, we've seen a big boost in awareness about public health, thanks to things like the Let's Move campaign, and the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which subsidizes food for low-income women and reduces the prices on healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.

We've changed some of our habits over the last 10 years, too, like increasing our breast-feeding rates (which has been linked to healthy weights for mom and baby), reducing our kids' calorie intake and allowing fewer sugary beverages.

While experts are thrilled about these new stats, several admit they're being cautiously optimistic.

“This is great news, but I’m cautious,” said Ruth Loos, who teaches preventive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai hospital in New York. “The picture will be clearer when we have a few more years of data.”

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