The statistics offered last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the “what,” but not the “why.” That data suggest that incidents of childhood obesity may have hit a plateau, but researchers are unclear if this trend is the result of recent efforts to slow weight gain among children, or just a temporary blip.
Child health experts are examining the information from 1999 to 2006 with guarded optimism, but taken at face value, it’s encouraging. In 1980, 6.5 percent of U.S. children were considered obese, and that figure rose to 11.3 percent by 1994. In 2002, the percentage was 16.3, but since then the number has leveled off around 17 percent.
It’s not being too optimistic to think that community and school programs dedicated to improving children’s diets and increasing physical activity levels have had a least some success — enough success, perhaps, that they have had an impact on these statistics published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. But it’s still far too soon to declare the problem solved. The immediate concern of health officials working to address this problem is that a plateau of any kind, whether it’s the result of normal cycles or of the various initiatives, will lead to the assumption that the problem has been resolved and that funding for childhood obesity programs can be scaled back.
That shouldn’t happen, because the data indicates that the 17 percent of children who are considered obese are among a total of 32 percent of children who are deemed overweight. That represents almost one-third of an entire American generation that could be facing lifetimes of weight-related health problems in the decades ahead. The incentive to raise young people who understand the importance of proper diet and nutrition as well as appropriate exercise and physical activity has never been greater.