The government published hopeful news earlier this week. According to a study by Center for Disease Control (CDC), obesity rates in preschool children (ages 2-5) declined by a whopping 43 percent in the last 10 years. In 2003, obesity rates for this group were 14 percent, but by 2012, they were down to 8 percent.
The same study found no difference in obesity rates for older children and adults, with the exception of women over 60. For this group, obesity rates actually climbed by 18 percent, from just under one third to 38 percent!
Back to the little ones. Nutrition and obesity experts are scratching their head trying to explain why only this group has shown an improvement. Some attribute it to early childhood intervention programs. Others cite the rise in popularity of breastfeeding. The First Lady’s Let’s Move program is also cited.
Success has many fathers (and mothers), so let all these causes be contributing factors. This leads us to ask: what happened with elementary school kids, whose obesity numbers were flat?
Here’s a theory. Infants, toddlers, and to a large extent preschoolers are mostly under the direct influence of their parents. They have very little say or wiggle room in what foods and beverages are offered to them. They are less socially influenced than school aged children. They have zero spending capability. They may be exposed to advertising but can’t really articulate their wants as well as older children. These kids are sheltered from the obesogenic environment the rest of us are exposed to. Unfortunately, this thin veil of parental protection is shattered as these kids transition into school age.
What should be done? According the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, continued education and outreach are key. We would add tighter regulation on marketing to children and a re-prioritization of crop subsidies so that fresh fruits and vegetables are cheaper than junk food.