Looks like the U.S. is winning its war on childhood obesity


Granville and Vance counties, N.C.: Turning things around. (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)

For decades, researchers watched the widening waistlines of America's children with alarm, as report after report indicated rising numbers of overweight kids. In response, programs were implemented, mandates imposed, and initiatives undertaken. Now, the studies are pouring in, and the results are encouraging: Obesity rates are leveling off and even dropping, in a sign that the public health crisis of the moment may have eased.

The first set of positive signs came last year, with reductions in New York City and Philadelphia, which has been mounting a broad assault on obesity since the late 2000s. Earlier this week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation pulled together a bunch of different studies from programs around the country that are seeing similar progress. They include:

- Mississippi posted a decrease from 43.9 percent of kids being overweight and obese in 2005 to 40.9 percent in 2011, three years after passage of the Mississippi Healthy Students Act.

- An April 2013 analysis showed that obesity rates declined from 10.5 to 8.9 percent in  Eastern Massachusetts between 2004 and 2008.

- After years of increasing, 2012 results from New Mexico indicate that the obesity rates among kindergarteners and third graders had leveled off.

- Although the number of overweight and obese kids crept upwards in North Carolina overall between 2005 and 2009, Vance and Granville counties saw significant declines after implementing healthy living programs based on the Centers for Disease Control's community guide.

- Kids in Kearney, Nebraska in grades one through five saw a 13.5 percent decline in obesity rates between 2005 and 2011.

There are still some trouble spots: Several tests found marked disparities between obesity trends in black students and white students, as well as better results for those insured through non-Medicaid plans than those who had Medicaid (meaning poor students fared worse). But the overall good news is mounting evidence that obvious community-based solutions, like eliminating fried foods in school lunches and educating kids about the need to exercise every day, tend to get results.

Childhood obesity rates have been declining in MIssissippi, though not equally for all grades or demographic groups. (Center for Mississippi Health Policy)
Childhood obesity rates have been declining in Mississippi, though not equally for all grades or demographic groups. (Center for Mississippi Health Policy)
Lydia DePillis is a reporter focusing on labor, business, and housing. She previously worked at The New Republic and the Washington City Paper. She's from Seattle.
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