ATLANTA, GA – One of seven low-income, preschool-aged children is obese, but the obesity epidemic may be stabilizing, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The prevalence of obesity in low-income two to four year-olds increased from 12.4 percent in 1998 to 14.5 percent in 2003 but rose to only 14.6 percent in 2008, said the report, based on CDC’s Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System (PedNSS). The study is in the July 24, 2009 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“These new data provide some encouragement, but remind us of two things–one, too many young children are obese, and two, we must not become complacent in our efforts to reduce obesity among young children,” said Dr. William H. Dietz, director of CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.  “Childhood obesity remains a major public health problem that increases the risk of developing serious chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and adult obesity.”

The report shows that the prevalence of obesity for this group has remained constant or declined since 2003 among about half of the states, territories, and Indian tribal organizations contributing to PedNSS.  The study defined obesity as a body mass index -for-age at or above the 95th percentile based on the 2000 sex-specific growth charts.

American Indians and Alaska Natives are the only race or ethnic groups with increasing rates between 2003 and 2008.  Obesity prevalence among these children continued to rise about a half percentage point each year from 2003 to 2008.

In 2008, obesity prevalence was highest among American Indian or Alaska Native (21.2 percent) and Hispanic (18.5 percent) children, and lowest among white (12.6 percent), Asian or Pacific Islander (12.3 percent), and black (11.8 percent) children.

In 2008, only Colorado and Hawaii reported 10 percent or less of low-income preschool-age children were obese.  The only PedNSS contributors with rates over 20 percent were Indian Tribal Organizations.

“To reduce childhood obesity, it is important that we create environmental and policy changes that promote physical activity and good nutrition,” said Dr. Andrea Sharma, CDC epidemiologist and lead author of the 2008 PedNSS study. “These include greater consumption of water and fruits and vegetables and lower consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and foods high in fats or added sugars.”

PedNSS is a voluntary state surveillance system that collects data primarily on children from birth through 4 years of age enrolled in federally funded programs that serve low-income children, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Currently, records on about 8 million children are submitted annually from 56 contributors including states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Indian Tribal Organizations.

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