THURSDAY, July 23, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- One in seven preschoolers from low-income families in the United States are considered obese, a new government report shows.
However, the same report finds that the news is not all bad: The childhood obesity epidemic does seem to be leveling off among children in this group.
Among 2- to 4-year-olds from low-income families, the prevalence of obesity increased from 12.4 percent in 1998 to 14.5 percent in 2003. However, it went up only to 14.6 percent in 2008, according to the July 24 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a publication of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Among lower-income, preschool-aged children, we are actually seeing a stabilization of obesity rates," said report co-author Laurence M. Grummer-Strawn, chief of CDC's Maternal Child Nutrition Branch in the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity.
"For a number of years, we were seeing continuous rises in this obesity epidemic and it looks like over the last five years we have actually seen that rate stabilize," he said. "Of course, we are not where we want to be. We want to see much more improvement, but it's at least good news that things are not continuing to get worse."
Why obesity in this age group is stabilizing is not completely clear, Grummer-Strawn said. "There has been more emphasis on pediatric obesity among low-income populations," he said. "There have been initiatives to promote breast-feeding, initiatives to use low-fat or skim milk, initiatives to reduce television watching and shaping behaviors toward better nutrition and physical activity," he noted.
But there remains a large racial and ethnic disparity in the obesity epidemic among preschoolers, Grummer-Strawn added.
Even though the prevalence of obesity has stayed steady in many parts of the country, it is still increasing among American Indian and Alaska Native children. Among these children, the prevalence of obesity has gone up about a half-percentage point each year from 2003 to 2008, according to the report.
As a matter of fact, American Indian or Alaska Native children had the highest obesity rates in 2008, at 21.2 percent, followed by Hispanic children at 18.5 percent.
The lowest obesity rates were among white children, at 12.6 percent, Asian or Pacific Islander children, at 12.3 percent, and black children, at 11.8 percent, the report found.
Only in Colorado and Hawaii were the obesity rates 10 percent or less among poor preschoolers, and only among Indian Tribal Organizations were the obesity rates over 20 percent.
"We need to be thinking about how to change our communities to be much healthier for our children," Grummer-Strawn said.
There need to be better parks and playgrounds "so that children can get outside and play," he said. "We also need to improve access to healthier foods."
For more on obesity, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.