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


Data on Alcohol Marketing and Youth – Alarming or Acceptable?

A report from The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Georgetown University suggests that youth are seeing more alcohol advertisements promoting its use than other messages such as health risks or dangers of driving while intoxicated. The report,  Drowned Out: Alcohol Industry “Responsibility” Advertising on Television 2001-2005 concluded that underage youth are exposed to larger amounts of industry television spots touting the enjoyment of alcohol than those promoting responsible use.

Between the years of 2001-2005:

  • Underage youth were 239 times more likely to view advertisements promoting alcohol than industry-sponsored  ads on the hazards of under-age consumption of alcohol
  • Youth were more likely to see an industry advertisement warning against drinking and driving than against under-age consumption, but were more likely overall to see advertisements promoting the enoyment of a particular brand of alcohol
  • Out of 300 alcohol brands that purchased television advertising,  8.3 percent (25) placed advertisements with a focus on responsible use of their product

Although data from 2010 indicate that the rate of alcohol use among youths aged 12 to 17 remained stable,  the public health/public policy concern valid as alcohol is the most widely use illegal drug by underage youth in America.  In addition, as stated in another recent bulletin from CAMY,  African-American youth 12-20  years of age are seeing more advertisements for alcohol in the media compared to their peers of the same age group.  The researchers suggest this is due to specific targeting of African American consumers by some brands, as well as the pattern of print and broadcast media exposure among the African American population.

Is media exposure to alcohol advertising contributing to the use of alcohol by underage youth?   What about the promotion of certain brands of alcohol on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter (not measured in the study)?

The Plotting of Happiness

An international study out of Australia found that happiness peaks (on average) during a person’s 60’s, then begins to decline, before dropping off considerably.  Earlier this year, Dr Tony Beatton of Queensland University of Technology and Professor Paul Frijters of The University of Queensland reported findings from their analysis of data from approximately 60,000 people from Australia, Britain and Germany. Highlights include:

  • Persons entering middle/retirement age (55 to 75 years) reported the highest levels of happiness
  • The data from Germany showed a decrease in happiness  as persons entered adulthood, then a peak at age 65 – a pattern different from the other data
  • Happiness dropped significantly after age 75 across cases

This research adds to the discussion of the ‘U bend of happiness” (see a great write-up on it in The Economist), the concept that happiness ultimately culminates in late middle age; but Beatton and Frijters also address the drop in happiness after age 75, suggesting that it  is related to the onset or worsening of health problems. This aligns with prior research on the relationship between the presentation of depression symptoms and medical issues/illnesses among the elderly population.  




Study Citation: Frijters, Paul & Beatton, Tony, 2012. “The mystery of the U-shaped relationship between happiness and age,” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 82(2), pages 525-542

Work-Family Conflict – Juggling Kids, Aging Parents and a Job You Want to Keep

The latest edition of the policy journal The Future of Children (a collaborative project between Princeton University and the Brookings Institution) was formally released last week at an event in Washington, DC.  The theme of the Fall 2011 issue is Work and Family, a timely topic what with approximately 70 percent of mothers currently in the workforce and an increasing number of single-parent families in the country.  Yet another new demographic trend adding strain to the work-family balance is the large number of aging and elderly parents, grandparents and other relatives who are or will be in need of care as their health declines.

I included a link to the audio of the event at the bottom of this post and encourage interested readers to give it a listen. The presentation concludes with a question and answer segment that expounds on methods to best balance both the needs of businesses and their employees around work-family policy changes such as paid leave (not paid for by the employer) and scheduling flexibility such as “right to request”. An aside – my personal favorite is a comment by a woman who claims that childbirth, based on her experience, only requires a 2-day disability leave.

The journal features 9 submissions on topics ranging from elder care, to an international examination of family leave practices in competitive economies, to the role of the government in work-family conflicts. With the federal government on the sidelines, unable to move forward with any legislation, now may be the time for state-level policy-makers and businesses to take the lead and address the very real issue of work-family conflicts. Some takeaways from the journal’s executive summary include:

  • flexibility in the workplace is a win-win as it is associated with higher productivity for employers and better health, job engagement and satisfaction for employees;
  • family leave policies are not equitable – they are more often seen in higher-paying professions; and
  • there is a need for policies in the workplace that realistically support men and women carrying the responsibility for young child and elder care to reduce work-family conflict at little to no additional cost to the employer.

Work and Family Balance

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