WASHINGTON, DC -- After decades of rising rates, obesity among low-income preschoolers fell in 2011, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officials are hopeful the new findings are an indication of a lasting trend.
"Although obesity remains epidemic, the tide has begun to turn for some kids in some states," said CDC director Tom Frieden. "While the changes are small, for the first time in a generation they are going in the right direction."
CDC's new report found about one in eight preschool-aged kids are obese, but suggested those rates may be falling.
Researchersanalyzed height and weight data from about 12 million children aged two to four years old from low-income families in 43 U.S. states and territories from 2008 to 2011.
Preschool obesity rates dropped slightly in at least 18 states.The biggest declines were in Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey and South Dakota, each of which saw saw their obesity numbers fall at least 1 percentage point. Obesity rates remained unchanged in 20 states and in Puerto Rico. Three states -- Colorado, Pennsylvania and Tennessee -- reported increases.
By contrast, previous CDC data from 2003 to 2008 showed an increase in obesity in 24 states, compared to only nine states showed a decrease.
Obesity rates also appeared to be higher among minority children. About one in five black children and one in six Hispanic children between the ages of two and five were obese, the CDC found.
Dr. Janet L. Collins, director of CDC's division of nutrition, physical activity and obesity, pointed out that states that saw declines in obesity have implemented programs to incorporate healthy eating and physical activity in kids' lives.
"We must continue to strengthen and expand proven strategies that help our children live healthier lives by avoiding obesity in the first place," Collins stressed.
According to CDC, one in eight preschoolers is obese in the United States. Children are five times more likely to be overweight or obese as an adult if they are overweight or obese between the ages of three and five years.
First lady Michelle Obama, who has led the charge against the fight against childhood obesity, hailed the new CDC data.
"Today's announcement reaffirms my belief that together, we are making a real difference in helping kids across the country get a healthier start to life," she said. "Yet, while this announcement reflects important progress, we also know that there is tremendous work still to be done to support healthy futures for all our children."