The blog of Burness Communications

Early Declines in Childhood Obesity Rates May Propel the National Movement

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For thirty years, childhood obesity rates have been on the rise. Nearly one in three young people in the U.S. is overweight or obese. But on Tuesday, the front page of The New York Times reported some encouraging news: childhood obesity rates are dropping in some cities and states.

Over the last few years, places like Philadelphia, New York City, California, and even Mississippi have documented declines in their childhood obesity rates. As the Times noted, these downward trends “offer the first indication that the obesity epidemic, one of the nation’s most intractable health problems, may actually be reversing course.”

In September, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a Burness client, released a brief report and multimedia web page highlighting some of the local declines, and describing some of the policy actions the cities and states have taken to address the epidemic. It seems clear that the places that are seeing declines are those that have undertaken comprehensive efforts to make it easier for kids and families to be active and eat healthier foods—both at home and at school.

The positive findings, and the report and media coverage that followed them, have brought even more attention to the national movement to reverse the obesity epidemic. Just this week, the Times story has been shared widely on Twitter and Facebook, and has motivated follow-up coverage by NBC Nightly News, Time magazine’s Healthland blog, and others. The Congressional Task Force on Childhood Obesity is circulating a Dear Colleague letter with the Times story and the RWJF brief to let all U.S. Representatives know about the initial declines.

James Marks, MD, MPH, senior vice president and director of RWJF’s Health Group, put the news in context for Healthland.

“We think of these findings as fragile and exciting,” said Marks. “After 30 years of steady increases, it’s exciting. But these are early changes, these are not secure changes. They could reverse easily and so it is by no means a notion that the epidemic is on the run. Rather, it is the notion that it is able to be defeated if society makes the changes that we know are necessary.”

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