After decades of increases, childhood obesity drops in several cities

Posted Dec. 24, 2012, at 9:45 a.m.

When junk food, fast food, sugary drinks and breakfast cereals that are 56 percent sugar by weight meet video games, televisions in bedrooms, and a walking-averse culture, the outcome shouldn’t be that surprising. About 17 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 19 in the United States are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s more than 12 million children, and triple the rate from one generation ago.

Although the rapidly skyrocketing rate has slowed its ascent in recent years, the numbers are still staggering, and public health experts expect for long-term health risks to ensue.

Childhood Type 2 diabetes is on the rise. And obese children are more likely to grow into obese adults, carrying a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

But amidst the troubling conundrum, some good news has been revealed.

A number of states are reporting declines in childhood obesity rates. Big cities such as New York and Los Angeles, and smaller spots such as Anchorage, Ak., and Kearney, Neb., have noted the change. And although the dips are small, mostly single-digit percentages, they provide the first sign that one the country’s most stubborn health problems may be relenting.

“It’s been nothing but bad news for 30 years, so the fact that we have any good news is a big story,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the health commissioner in New York City.

Obesity is more widely reported for low-income children than those from affluent families — 20 percent of low-income children are obese as compared to 12 percent from affluent families — and the current declines appear to be focused in high-income, mostly white areas.

But Philadelphia, which has the highest big-city poverty rate in the country, reported that its obesity drop occurred mostly among minorities.

Philadelphia has taken assertive action in controlling sugar and junk food in the public schools, such as offering erasers instead of candy for rewards and swapping healthy foods for sugar-heavy bake sale treats.

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