The news this summer was good for a change. After decades of ever-more-gloomy reports on childhood obesity, there is some indication that children are not putting on as much excess weight as in recent years.
The federal Centers for Disease Control reported this month that obesity rates among low-income preschoolers declined in 19 states and U.S. territories between 2008 and 2011. That's great news because excess weight brings all kinds of problems, including diseases that used to be seen only in adults, and a greater likelihood of being overweight or obese and unhealthy into adulthood.
West Virginia's childhood obesity rate remained unchanged in that report, but there are other indications that West Virginia is making progress also.
Researchers at WVU's CARDIAC project have been screening school-age students for years for several conditions. In 2012, they found one in five fifth-graders had high blood pressure, which is down from one in four in previous years. The fifth-grade obesity rate dropped a point in 2012, and the rate among kindergarteners dropped from 18 percent to 15 percent.
Dr. Jamie Jeffrey, medical director of Children's Medicine Center at Charleston's Women and Children's Hospital, says obesity has decreased among patients there. Five years ago, 44 percent of the center's patients aged of 2 to 14 were obese or overweight. This year only 36 percent were.
While the problem is far from solved, the change in the right direction is encouraging. Each percentage point represents thousands of young people, and suggests that efforts to make a difference are working.
The improvement described in the federal report is attributed to three things: More fresh fruit and vegetables instead of juices have recently been required in federally funded maternal and child nutrition programs. There has been an increase in breast-feeding, which is associated with lower risk of obesity. The public has grown more aware of health and physical fitness.
Locally, there are efforts to serve healthier food in schools and to add more exercise to regular school days. Dr. Jeffrey said she and colleagues have preached nutrition and physical activity and warned parents of diseases their children will develop because of so much excess weight.
This problem is not solved yet, but there is every reason to believe that steps taken by families, communities, schools and governments are making a difference. Keep it up.