Childhood Obesity Declines


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The trend of obesity in low-income children in the United States may be improving. Obesity is a serious disease because it impacts both the physical and mental health of children. It increases risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure.1 Obese preschoolers are at a higher risk of becoming obese adults.2 Young obese children face societal and psychological difficulties, such as low self-esteem.3 Childhood obesity also is associated with premature death and high costs for health care.4
Low-income children are disproportionately likely to be obese.
  • In 2008, 14.8 percent of low-income children ages 2-5 were obese. The national average for that age group is 10 percent.5
  • In 2007, nearly 45 percent of low-income children ages 10-17 were classified as obese or overweight. Only 22.2 percent of children from families at four times the federal poverty level or greater met the same classification.6
  • Low-income children are uniquely affected by state and federal nutrition programs. Changes to programs such as the National School Lunch Program and The Special Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) could help stem what the National Center for Children in Poverty calls the “obesity epidemic.”7
Recent data shows the low-income childhood obesity trend for 2- to 4-year-olds is improving.
  • In a population of 27.5 million children ages 2 to 4, obesity increased from 13 percent in 1998 to 15.2 percent in 2003.8
  • In the same study, obesity prevalence decreased from 15.2 percent in 2003 to 14.9 percent in 2010.9
  • A new study found that the obesity rates for low-income children ages 2 to 4 fell in 18 states—California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, South Dakota and Washington—and the Virgin Islands between 2008 and 2011.10
  • In the same period, 19 states—Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Kentucky, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin—plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico—saw no significant changes in childhood obesity rates.
  • Only three states—Colorado, Pennsylvania and Tennessee—saw an increase in childhood obesity from 2008 to 2011.11


1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Childhood Obesity Facts.”
2 Sharma, AJ et al. “Obesity Prevalence Among Low-Income, Preschool-Aged Children --- United States, 1998—2008” Center for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 62 no.58:28 July 2009: 763-773.
4 Pan, Liping et al. “Trends in the Prevelence of Extreme Obesity Among US Preschool-Aged Children Living in Low-Income Families, 1998-2010.” Journal of the American Medical Association 308 no. 24. 26 December 2012:2563-2565.
5 Banghart, Patti. “Comprehensive Obesity Prevention in Early Childhood: Promising Federal and State Initiatives.” National Center for Children in Poverty March 2012. 
8 Sharma, AJ.
9 Sharma, AJ.
10 May, Ashleigh L. et al. “Vital Signs: Obesity Among Low-Income, Preschool-Aged Children – United States, 2008-2011. Center for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 62 no. 31:9 August 2013: 629-634.
11 May, Ashleigh L.
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