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Obesity rates among low-income preschoolers dropping in some states

A new Centers for Disease Control report finds that the obesity rate for children in low-income families has been dropping in some U.S. states and territories.  Of the 19 states and territories to experience a downward trend in the percentage of low-income obese children aged 2 to 5 years, New Jersey, Florida, Missouri, South Dakota, Georgia and the U.S. Virgin Islands had the largest absolute decreases in obesity prevalence.

“There are a lot of different changes happening at different levels in the country,” says Rebecca Adeigbe, the program coordinator for Salud America!, a Latino childhood obesity prevention program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation based at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

“More and more so, the medical field, doctors and nurses particularly, are becoming more important and starting to realize they need to address obesity in parents when they come across obese children in a school or neighborhood setting.”

The number of obese children increased in three states: Colorado, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.  In Colorado, 9.4 percent of the children are obese, among the lowest percentage of obese children.

The survey also found that 1 in 6, or 16.2 percent, of low-income Hispanic preschoolers are obese.  More than 39 percent of Latino children aged 2 to 19 are overweight or obese compared to 32 percent of U.S. children in general, according to Adeigbe.

In the 43 states and territories surveyed, approximately 1 out of 8, or 12.1 percent, of low-income American preschoolers are obese, according to the survey results.

“It’s hard when children live in an environment not conducive for what they’re learning about obesity,” Adeigbe says. “The community and policy piece of the fight against obesity have to be there to reinforce what we’re asking people to do.”

There has been no significant change in obesity rates in twenty states and Puerto Rico. Although the childhood obesity rate in Puerto Rico has not grown or declined, 17.9 percent of children there are obese – the highest rate in the entire country.

Map of changes in obesity rates throughout the country. (Screen grab from CDC Vitalsigns fact sheet.)

Map of changes in obesity rates throughout the country. (Screen grab from CDC Vitalsigns fact sheet.)

“When you’re talking to parents or trying to correct obesity at a personal or family level, it’s important to look at those influences in that particular area contributing to obesity,” Adeigbe says. “The recommendation for addressing obesity has been at the state and local level because that when the changes happen.”

“We know, and it’s been stated repeatedly, that obese children are more likely to become obese adults,” Adeigbe says. “If it’s something we can address at a younger age, we can reverse and prevent that. We do also know there is a correlation or association stated in the literature that there are higher rates of type 2 diabetes in younger children associated with obesity.”

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