The percentage of 2- to 5-year-olds who are obese dropped from nearly 14 percent in 2003-2004 to about 8 percent in 2011-2012, an impressive dip in the course of a decade. A federal report released last week also showed that obesity rates for older children and adults were relatively flat during the period. The upward trend in obesity appears to be leveling off, but the findings remind that the rates remain high. About one-third of adults are obese.
Health researchers typically are cautious about crediting any single activity or policy as the key to driving down obesity rates. The billions of dollars spent every year on exercise and diet programs are proof enough that reversing obesity is notoriously difficult. Still, evidence of a decline among preschoolers points to the many factors that need to pull in the same direction to counter an unhealthy national trend.
Researchers cite among the effective contributors: public education on the serious health risks of excessive weight, including diabetes and cardiovascular diseases; pressure on food and beverage producers to reduce the salt, sugar and fat content of their products; the promotion of physical activities, such as first lady Michele Obama’s Let’s Move campaign for children; and policy incentives that encourage better choices, for example, shifting more money in the Women, Infants and Children program to fresh fruits and vegetables instead of juices, eggs and cheese.
Another promising step to healthier choices is the revision of nutrition labels the Food and Drug Administration presented last week for public comment. The proposal recognizes the current label is outdated and often misleading. It is a rare person who counts 10 potato chips, say, or an eight-ounce cup of soda as a regular serving size. The FDA calls for more realistic portion sizes, a bolder display of total fat and calorie counts and a new listing of added sugar.
A new label won’t make much of a difference by itself. But it adds another lever, with the other factors, to move the needle on the obesity rate.