A Little Mystery in the Latest Obesity Report


Last time, Childhood Obesity News looked at the latest significant report about childhood obesity, which found that, measured over a decade, American children between the ages of 2 and 5 years showed a 43% decline in obesity. That’s good news, but the decrease applies only in the toddler-to-kindergarten demographic. However, from the way some media outlets presented it, you’d think the whole darn childhood obesity epidemic had been vanquished, never to be heard from again.

Because obesity-prevention efforts in the United States have been aimed mainly at school-age kids, some find it hard to understand why the improvement was found among preschool-age children. The Centers for Disease Control study did not include reasons for the decline in obesity among the 2-to-5 age group. Writing for the Washington Post, Zachary Goldfarb suggests several reasons for the phenomenon.

One is that cigarette smoking has been linked to a higher risk of obesity in a gestating child, especially if that child is female. Apparently, more pregnant women have decided to give up the habit. Breastfeeding has been shown in study after study to make a substantial difference. Awareness about the benefits has grown immensely, and more babies are being nursed by their mothers for at least six months. Goldfarb also cites nutritional awareness efforts:

New federal nutritional guidelines have trickled down to state and local programs, such as encouraging increased consumption of water and 100 percent fruit juice, limiting serving sizes, encouraging a single adult not to feed more than one infant at a time, and limiting time in front of the television.

The government’s WIC program helps out with the nutritional needs of women, infants, and children, and in 2009 its policies changed to reduce saturated fat and exclude fruit juice from infant food packages. Also, the agency’s funding formula enabled the purchase of more fruits and vegetables.

The pressure exerted upon food corporations is said to have caused a reduction in the number of TV ads targeting children, and First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program also comes in for some of the credit.

But there is another side to that hypothesis. Michael Dorstewitz explains that since school lunches have become more nutritious, 1.6 million students have chosen to ignore them and make other arrangements for their midday meals. This reversed a 10-year trend of increasing participation in the lunch program. The Government Accountability Office looked into the reasons and found that, according to the kids, the food is unpalatable. They don’t like whole grains, beans, peas, or vegetables in the red and orange range, and the portions served are considered to not be big enough.

Alec Torres, writing for National Review, gives Let’s Move only the tiniest bit of credit — certainly not $4.5 billion worth of credit, which is what the program has cost so far. In his recent State of the Union speech, President Obama acknowledged Let’s Move for helping to decrease childhood obesity for the first time in 30 years. Torres is skeptical:

‘Helped’ is the key word there, because the figures the White House is using cover a period of time that barely overlaps with Let’s Move…. Obesity rates were well on their current trajectory before Let’s Move had any influence.

He blames the “micro-regulations” implemented in schools, and claims that almost every government action born of Let’s Move has been “unhelpful or even harmful.” It’s not the fault of the schools, he says:

Healthy-food options were too expensive for many school districts to afford; mandatory calorie limitations left kids wanting more and unable to study; and students roundly complained that the food tasted horrible. Earlier this year, the USDA permanently loosened school-meal rules.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “These 6 reasons explain why childhood obesity has fallen so much,” WashingtonPost.com, 02/26/14
Source: “Numbers show kids really hate Michelle Obama’s nose stuck in their lunch,” BizPacReview.com, 03/05/14
Source: “Let’s Move? Fat Chance,” NationalReview.com, 02/03/14
Image by Bev Sykes


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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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