Preschooler Obesity Rates Drop in 19 states, Increase in Pennsylvania


Strategieis to combat childhood obesity include more education on nutrition, walking and biking programs, and improving outdoor parks.
Strategies to combat childhood obesity include nutrition education, walking and biking programs, and improving outdoor parks.

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


Who is the Target of Fast Food Marketing?

A research study on youth-focused marketing in and around fast food eateries has concluded that such advertisement is most prevalent in middle-income and Black neighborhoods.

While fast food consumption among adults and caloric consumption among children have both declined, the study found 22 percent of fast food restaurants engaged in direct marketing to youth, most often in Black communities (31 percent) and mid-level-income areas (30 percent), followed by near-low-income areas, and White and Latino neighborhoods (all at 24 percent).  Of the eateries that aimed indoor and outdoor ads at children, 38 percent offered “kids meals”.  Other marketing findings and the larger implications for health policy are included in the December 2012  brief, Child-Directed Marketing Within and Around Fast Food Restaurants, available online at the Bridging the Gap website.

Businesses must market to their target audiences in order to be successful, but awareness of the prevalence and nature of such messaging to youth can encourage family discussions about the impact of too much unhealthy eating, and setting limits for trips to fast food restaurants.



Report Citation: Ohri-Vachaspati P, Powell LM, Rimkus LM, Isgor Z, Barker D and Chaloupka FJ. Child-Directed Marketing Within and Around FastFood Restaurants—ABTG Research Brief. Chicago, IL: Bridging the  Gap Program, Health Policy Center, Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2012.

The Next Wave of Health Policy – Controlling Access to High Sugar/Fat Food & Drink?

Will strict limitations – such as those used to regulate alcohol sales – be the next step in addressing the nation’s problematic obesity rate?

Research indicates overeating, or eating the wrong things (even when better options are available), is more prevalent than lack of exercise and more strongly correlated with weight gain.  For this reason, some policymakers and health experts have long wondered if strict regulation would curb unhealthy food and drink choices,  similar to how the state controls alcohol purchase and consumption.   Although the opinions on the long-term value of such a policy vary, both on the health and the political costs,  the research shows it may be viable public policy option.   So, actions such as Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban are likely to be somewhat common, somewhat soon (but hopefully nowhere near a Primanti Bros.).





Study Citation:  Cohen D, Rabinovich L. Addressing the Proximal Causes of Obesity: The Relevance of Alcohol Control Policies. Prev Chronic Dis 2012;9:110274. DOI:


Study Shows School Lunches are Healthier – Is it Enough to Impact the Youth Obesity Rate?

A follow-up report from Bridging the Gap on student health and fitness  shows small improvements in school lunch offerings over the past four years.  The report, Improving Children’s Health: National Elementary School Survey Results: School Years 2006–07 through 2009–10. Vol. 2.,  provides updated results from one of the most comprehensive studies of health-related policies and practices in U.S. elementary schools to date (released in November 2010).

The findings and trends discussed in the paper cover a range of issues related to childhood obesity from 2006–07 to 2009–10, including,

  •  The availability of  healthy food and drink selections increased in schools between the 2006/7 year and the 2009/10 school years, for example – availability of whole grains increased from 15 percent  to 21 percent during that time period, availability of low fat milk increased from 21 percent to 34 percent, and the availability of salad and fresh fruit remained stable with 40 percent of public elementary schools offering  packaged salads or a salad bar and 33 percent offering fresh fruit
  • Sales of lunchtime “extras” such as ice cream, chips and packaged pastries increased significantly, from 42 percent to 52 percent between 2006/7 and 2009/10. The researchers suggest that the increase is due to more elementary schools making these meal supplements (or substitutions) available in the cafeteria.
  •  There have been very few notable policy changes made to support physical activity in school since the 2006–07 study. There was no statistical change in elementary schools offering intramural or extramural sports during the time period (37 percent in 2006/7 versus 34 in 2009/10).


Communities, educational and child care professionals and parents can work together to slow the trend of childhood obesity by making small but consistent changes, such as monitoring the availability and nutritional value of snacks and drinks for students, increasing outdoor recreation activities, and keeping parks and neighborhood playgrounds well kept and safe for children and families to use regularly.



Report Citation:  Turner L, Chaloupka FJ and Sandoval A. School Policies and Practices for Improving Children’s Health: National Elementary School Survey Results: School Years 2006–07 through 2009–10. Vol. 2. Chicago, IL: Bridging the Gap Program, Health Policy Center, Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2012.