As has been widely reported over the past week, obesity rates among preschoolers have declined nationwide according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), announcing the results of a study of children aged 2 to 4 in 40 states or territories who were enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. Three states, including Pennsylvania, have seen an increase, while 21 reported no change. The trend of obesity in preschoolers increased in the early 2000’s, stabilized by 2008, and as of the latest data from 2011, has declined in 19 states/territories.
Although the increase is statistically significant, it should be noted that the rate in Pennsylvania has increased by less than 1 percent (.7%) since 2008 – with an additional 8,045 preschoolers classified as obese in 2011 than in 2008. The trend appears to be stable but not yet reversed in Pennsylvania as other data show little variability in obesity rates of school-age children over the last 5 years. According to the Growth Screens and BMI-for-Age data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, statewide 16.7 percent of Kindergarten through Grade Six students were at or above the 95th percentile (considered obese) in the 2010-2011 school year – about the same proportion as in 2006-2007. In the same year in the Southwestern district of the state, 16.7 percent of K-6 students were at or over the 95th percentile in weight, 15.3 percent in Allegheny County.
Obesity rates among preschoolers and school-age youth matter as they not only impact one’s health but also have an economic impact. Children who are overweight are 5 times more likely to be overweight as adults than those within a healthy weight range. The Pennsylvania Obesity Prevention and Wellness Program has introduced several initiatives and strategies to address this issue, including educating pediatricians, programs to increase walking and bicycling to schools, and partnerships to improve school nutrition, as well as campaigns to improve safety on walking paths and tobacco-free environments in parks and playgrounds.
Photo by Lisafern (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons