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Obesity in Low-Income Preschool-Age Children Dips, Study Finds

After spiking in the mid-2000s, childhood obesity among preschoolers from low-income families appears to have decreased slightly by 2010, according to a research letter published online Wednesday in JAMA.

Researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set out to determine previously unknown national trends in extreme obesity among preschool-age children (ages 2 to 4) from low-income families.

Previous research suggests that children in low-income families experience higher rates of childhood obesity, and that once children become obese, it's more difficult for them to lose weight. Obese youths also may already have heart damage even if they display no symptoms of heart disease, according to a study presented earlier this year.

The good news? The CDC researchers found evidence that both obesity and extreme obesity declined slightly among preschool-age children from low-income families between 2003 and 2010.

For their research letter, they examined data for nearly 26.7 million children from the CDC's Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, which monitors children eligible for federally funded maternal- and child-health programs. The data were for children ages 2 to 4 from 30 states and the District of Columbia from 1998 through 2010.

From 1998 to 2003, the prevalence of obesity and extreme obesity both increased in the population of 2- to 4-year-olds studied. Obesity increased from 13.05 percent of such children in 1998 to 15.21 percent in 2003, while the proportion with extreme obesity increased from 1.75 percent in 1998 to 2.22 percent in 2003.

Well and Good

Somewhere in the middle to late 2000s, that trend appeared to begin reversing. By 2010, the prevalence of obesity declined from 15.21 percent to 14.94 percent, while the prevalence of extreme obesity decreased from 2.22 percent to 2.07 percent. The percentage of children falling into either category in 2010 still exceeds the 1998 percentages, however.

"To our knowledge, this is the first national study to show that the prevalence of obesity and extreme obesity among young U.S. children may have begun to decline," the authors write in the research letter. "The results of this study indicate modest recent progress of obesity prevention among young children. These findings may have important health implications because of the lifelong health risks of obesity and extreme obesity in early childhood."

While not on a national basis, a few major cities have reported signs of progress in combating the childhood-obesity epidemic in 2012. The obesity rate in New York City's K-8 public school system has decreased 5.5 percent since the 2006-07 school year, according to a report published online in JAMA this past January, and childhood obesity dropped 4.5 percent among all Philadelphia students between the 2006-07 and 2009-10 school years, according to a study published in September in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Meanwhile, in California, the childhood-obesity rate continued to increase from 2003 to 2008, but the rate of increase had slowed from previous years, a study published in the February issue of the American Heart Journal found.

Overall, more young boys are now considered obese than at the turn of the current century, according to a separate analysis published online in JAMA in January 2012.

If we're to believe some of the emerging research from 2012, however, there's evidence of progress being made in the ongoing battle against childhood obesity in at least some places in the United States.

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