Less Mass in Massachusetts

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Last December, we were pleased to announce that childhood obesity rates in New York City and other areas were declining. Now, according to recent research, the same is true for kids under the age of six in eastern Massachusetts.

In the latest study, published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers from the Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care in Boston examined obesity trends among kids six and under who visited a pediatric office in the greater Boston area. What they found was that, after remaining stable between 1999 and 2003, the obesity rate for these tykes began to decrease after 2004. In fact, by 2008, less than 9 percent of boys were obese, compared to nearly 11 percent between 1999 and 2004. The obesity rate fell from more than 8 percent to about 6 percent for girls during the same time period.

These figures also reflected national trends; federal heath survey figures show that obesity rates for two- to six-year-olds fell to about 10 percent in 2008, compared to 14 percent in 2004.

Not all kids, however, demonstrated such promising declines in girth. Among children on Medicaid the federally-funded health insurance program for lower-income families obesity rates remained the same; nearly 15 percent of children between the ages of two and six were obese from 2004 to 2008.

Researchers could not explain why obesity rates were lower in Massachusetts kids as compared to the national averages, though they believe that higher income and private insurance have something to do with it.

Though ACSH staffers were excited to learn that obesity rates were either declining or had at least remained stable, ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava wants to emphasize that, if you look at a broader age range, obesity still remains a serious problem nationwide. Since 2000, she says, about 17 percent of two- to 19-year-olds in the U.S. have remained obese, so we still have a lot of work to do in order to improve these figures.

But ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross believes that if parents emphasize more exercise and less TV and computer time, we could see an even more significant decline in childhood obesity rates in the years to come. Though the media and certain activists are constantly harping on the rising rate of overweight and obesity among our nation s children, he says, these latest data seem to refute that, at least to some extent, and suggest that we re headed in the right direction. To me, it seems like this research and the other data mitigate the severity of the obesity epidemic.