Dec. 15, 2011 -- Slowly but surely, New York City seems to be making some inroads in its childhood obesity epidemic.
New research documents a 5.5% drop in the number of obese children in kindergarten through eighth grade in New York City’s public schools from 2006-2007 to 2010-1011.
Since 1970, the rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. has tripled. There has been a hint that these rates were leveling off in New York City in recent years, but the new study reports an actual decrease.
Experts tell WebMD that this is good -- if not great -- news, but that there is still much more work needed in New York City and elsewhere to really put a dent in the rates of childhood obesity.
The new findings appear in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).
“This is very encouraging,” says researcher Magdalena Berger, MPH. She is a New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene researcher.
According to the new report, rates of obesity in elementary and middle school students in New York City public schools fell from 21.9% in 2006-2007 to 20.7% in 2010-2011. The decrease in rates was less among minority children and those living in poorer neighborhoods, the study showed.
Exactly why there was a drop in overall rates of childhood obesity is not known, but many changes made by both the city and the department of education likely play a role, Berger says. From 2003 to 2009, New York City provided healthier foods in school cafeterias and stepped up efforts to increase physical education and limit TV or computer time.
During this time, the number of middle schools that offered a before- or after-school sports program jumped from 40 to 225, and close to 4,000 elementary school teachers were trained to provide in-class exercise breaks. What’s more, New York City public school nurses were also trained to look out for children at risk for becoming obese.
Healthy changes likely took place at home as well. The decrease was steeper in children aged 5 and 6, the study shows. This suggests changes in home and in preschools may also be having an impact on weight.
“Parents can also do a lot to help their children maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Berger says. “Children learn by example, and if a parent eats a healthy diet and exercises on regular basis, the child is likely to do the same thing.”
How to Spread the Health
Scott Kahan, MD, is thrilled that child obesity rates in New York City are decreasing. He is the director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C.
“This is really good news,” he says. “School cafeterias are making the healthy choice, not the easy or default choice,” he says. For example, whole milk has been replaced by low-fat or skim milk.