Obesity In Young Children Has Plummeted In The Last Decade, And We Can (Partially) Thank Michelle Obama

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Looks like whatever Michelle Obama is doing with her Let's Move! campaign is working: The obesity rate among under-fives is on the decline. According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Wednesday, the prevalence of obesity among two-to-five-year-old children plummeted a jaw-dropping 43 percent between 2003 and 2012. 

The CDC says it's not exactly sure why the rate is decreasing, but it's thought to be a combination of both federal and local health initiatives targeting toddler obesity through better nutrition and more exercise at day-cares and preschools. CDC data also shows that young children aren't consuming as many calories through sugar-laden drinks as they were before, and there has been an increase in breastfeeding rates.

Additionally, around 10,000 childcare centers across the US have signed on to First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, which advises childcare providers to strive for one to two hours of physical activity per day, a maximum of 30 minutes per week of screen time for children aged two and over, and a ban on sugary drinks.

“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 the CDC press release. “With the participation of kids, parents, and communities in Let’s Move! these last four years,  healthier habits are beginning to become the new norm.”

The announcement of the latest figures coincides with the four-year anniversary of Let's Move! and a new push by the First Lady to ban in-school advertising for unhealthy foods. Michelle Obama has teamed up with the Department of Agriculture to propose the regulations, which would prohibit marketing of foods that do not meet federal nutrition rules for foods served in public schools.

“The idea here is simple—our classrooms should be healthy places where kids aren’t bombarded with ads for junk food,” Michelle Obama said in an announcement with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak at the White House on Tuesday.  “Because when parents are working hard to teach their kids healthy habits at home, their work shouldn’t be undone by unhealthy messages at school."

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Although the figures for to very young children are reason to take heart, the overall picture painted by the CDC's latest data is not pretty. Obesity rates among teens and adults have remained steady. Almost 17 percent of two-to-19-year-olds and 35 percent of adults over the age of 20 are still obese, reflecting a very slight decrease among teens and an increase from 32.2 percent among adults. 

There has also been a significant increase - from 31.5 percent to just over 38 percent - in the obesity rate among women over 60.

"Overall, there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012," the conclusion of the study reads, depressingly. "Obesity prevalence remains high and thus it is important to continue surveillance."

It's great news that little ones in the US are getting healthier but, for the rest of us, there's still a lot of work to do. 

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