For years we ve been hearing about the obesity epidemic and how it will pose an ever-greater public health threat if we don t somehow manage to slow it down. Of particular concern has been the extent of overweight and obesity in children, since data indicate that obese youngsters tend to retain their excess padding as adults, making them more likely to fall victim to diabetes, incapacitating arthritis, and other chronic ills.
Now, however, there seems to be a glimmer of hope for future public health. A new report published today in JAMA compares the prevalence of obesity in 2011-2012 with that of 2003-2004. Led by Dr. Cynthia Ogden of the CDC, researchers examined data from the NHANES (Nutrition and Health Examination Survey) and found some good news in the 2-5 year-old age group.
In 2004, approximately 14 percent of children in this group were considered obese, but in 20012 the prevalence fell to only about 8 percent. Dr. Ogden commented in The New York Times This is the first time we ve seen any indication of any significant decrease in any group.
In their discussion, the authors noted that there had previously been indications that obesity prevalence has been decreasing in some populations, such as low-income preschool-age children who participate in federal nutrition programs. So the recent report wasn t totally without precedence.
The bad news, however, was that the prevalence of obesity did not change for older children or most adults; it may be that once obesity is established it is more difficult to banish. Indeed, between the periods examined, obesity prevalence rose for women over 60 years old.
ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava was intrigued by this report, saying We may be seeing an indication the obesity epidemic is finally slowing. If this population of youngsters maintains the lower obesity prevalence perhaps we can expect further good news down the road, such as a welcome decrease in type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases in adults.