The obesity rate among American pre-schoolers dropped significantly over the past eight years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.
According to the survey, the obesity rate among children ages 2-5 fell by nearly half in that eight-year period, from 14% in 2003-2004 to just more than 8% in 2011-2012.
The news comes as first lady Michelle Obama celebrates the fourth anniversary of her “Let’s Move!” campaign focused on encouraging kids to exercise and practice health eating in an effort to stem the nation’s obesity epidemic.
“I am thrilled at the progress we've made over the last few years in obesity rates among our youngest Americans," the first lady said in a statement. "Healthier habits are beginning to become the new norm."
Since February 2010, Obama has led a public effort on that front, including appearing with Elmo on Sesame Street, recording an album with hip-hop and pop stars encouraging healthy habits, and dunking on LeBron James, all in the name of her “Let’s Move!” initiative.
In celebration of the campaign entering its fifth year, Obama released a video Monday of herself and comedian Will Ferrell engaging in a mock focus group with kids about exercise and healthy eating. On Tuesday, Obama announced a series of food policy advancements on the federal level, including the expansion of free lunch and breakfast programs. She also touted partnerships with the Boys and Girls Club and the National Recreation and Park Association, which – along with the YMCA, another partner of the “Let’s Move!” program – works with more than 5 million kids. Obama visited an after-school program in Miami, Florida Tuesday with Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler.
The guidelines unveiled by Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Tuesday included removing junk food, soft drinks, and advertisements that promote them from school grounds.
“We are well on our way to building healthier schools for all of our children,” Obama said Tuesday. “Children born today will be accustomed to eating healthier food during the school day, so their norm will be fruits and vegetables and not chips and candy.”
While the most recent CDC report showed a stunning reversal in early childhood obesity, the figures remained stagnant among older populations, and even grew among older women.
The study found almost 18% of children ages 6 to 11 to be obese, along with 20.5% of children ages 12 to 19. The obesity rate among women over 60 ticked up four and a half points, from 31% to 35.4%.
A third of adults nation-wide are obese, along with 13% of kids. Childhood obesity is a key predictor of adulthood obesity, and the epidemic factors into higher instances of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, depression and low self-esteem.
The numbers are even more staggering among low-income children, with 1 in 7 overweight. The rates are also higher among minorities.
Research shows that children are consuming fewer calories than in decades past, especially from sugary drinks. Experts say the downward trend – a 7% drop for boys and 4% drop for girls –is promising, but too small to account for a dramatic change.
More than 9,000 people participated in the CDC survey. Of the 871 of them between 2 and 5 years old, only 70 were found to be obese. Therefore, the rate can tick noticeably up or down in a given year based on a small number of individuals.