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Declining Rates of Childhood Obesity: Cause for Celebration, But No Reason to Give Up the Fight

With the holidays upon us and a new year approaching, we have many reasons to celebrate. For those of us concerned about our nation’s obesity and chronic disease crisis, declining rates of childhood obesity in several cities and states provided another reason to celebrate after decades of disheartening news. Though these numbers were first reported in September by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The New York Times also called attention to these findings in an article earlier this week. Philadelphia and New York saw declines of 4.7% and 5.5% respectively while Mississippi and California saw declines of 13.3% and 1.1%. Given that rates of childhood obesity have been steadily increasing (in fact, tripling) since 1980, these decreases could mark an important turning point in the fight to improve our nation’s health.

  • New York City has taken several steps to alter the built environment in a way to promote active living. Active design guidelines push architects and planners to design communities and spaces that encourage physical activity. For example, the guidelines recommend providing for a mix of uses in urban-scale developments and locating places of residence and work near destinations such as parks, walking trails, and waterfront recreation areas to foster physical activity.

Healthy Families Recommendation #2: USDA should ensure that all its nutrition assistance programs reflect and support federal Dietary Guidelines

  • In California, the state Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program partnered with the Sesame Workshop to launch a year-long Healthy Habits campaign. 3,500 WIC staff coordinated their nutrition messaging and provided families with Get Healthy Now mini-kits, which delivered healthy living messages via a booklet and a CD. Program evaluation showed that participants remembered campaign messages; increased their consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; and replaced whole milk with lower fat milk.

We salute the progress of these innovative cities and states and wish them continued success in their efforts to encourage health-promoting behaviors and improve the nutrition and physical activity environment. While this progress is encouraging, it by no means indicates that our work is complete. It took decades for obesity rates to climb this high so we should not expect them to recede in just a few years. As the IOM’s Committee on Accelerating Progress on Obesity Prevention noted, “Bold, widespread, and sustained action will be necessary to accelerate progress in obesity prevention.” We hope that the promising results and innovative practices highlighted above encourage other cities and states to follow their lead. BPC is committed to helping accelerate the uptake of evidence-based, systematic strategies such as the ones these pioneers have implemented.


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