Good news on the obesity front: severe obesity declining in NYC schoolchildren

87534169Last year, the CDC published a study that found that between 2008 and 2011, the prevalence of obesity among preschoolers declined in 19 out of the 43 states studied. Although childhood obesity is still a major concern with 17 percent (one-sixth) of children in the US documented as being overweight or obese, a recent study from the CDC found that obesity rates are on the decline in New York City.

Researchers led by Sophia Day of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene studied the rates of severe obesity in about 950,000 public school children in New York City in kindergarten through eighth grade. They found that between the 2006-2007 school year and the 2010-2011 school year, severe obesity rates decreased 9.5 percent and regular obesity rates decreased 5.5 percent. Severe obesity rates were highest among minority, poor, and male children and the greatest decreases in obesity were seen in white and wealthy students.

Although the reasons for this decrease are not clear, researchers believe that the intervention programs being implemented in New York City public schools (including healthier school lunches) may have contributed to this decrease. Researchers also add that the rate of severe obesity in children should continue to be monitored because those children are at the greatest risk for poor health outcomes such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease. This will allow clinicians and public health officials to focus on the populations most at risk.

ACSH s Ariel Savransky adds, Although this is encouraging news and may possibly point to the effectiveness of some of the programs being implemented in New York City public schools (although a cause and effect relationship cannot be determined), obesity rates remain high and educational efforts should continue in the schools. Efforts must also be made to continue to educate parents about the importance of physical activity and nutrition for their children, as reducing obesity in children is likely the most effective way to ensure these children are not obese as adults.

ACSH s Dr. Gil Ross had this comment: I find it ironic that the so-called obesity epidemic we all focused on over the past 5 years or so was actually already on the way towards improvement by the time we became aware of it. These data clearly show that the decline in obesity rates began about 10 years ago. Still, there is no reason to relax our efforts to combat this problem: one out of six kids being heavier than they should be is reason enough.