By Leanne Italie
Is the anti-obesity message finally getting through?
A marked drop in the obesity rate among preschoolers in the U.S. has researchers and parents pointing to a variety of possible factors.
The glimmer of hope was contained in a government report issued Tuesday that showed that the obesity rate among children 2 to 5 years old dropped by nearly half over a decade, from 14 percent to 8 percent. That is encouraging in part because obese preschoolers are more likely to be obese as they get older.
Here’s a look at the changing health-related landscape that may have contributed to the drop in preschool obesity:
Parents setting the example
Sherlyn Pang Luedtke, a parenting coach, said parents can improve their children’s eating habits, even if their own were less than stellar.
“I was raised eating fried eggs and rice almost every day for breakfast,” said Luedtke, who grew up near downtown Los Angeles.
She and her husband have a 9-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, and the family sticks mostly to vegetarian fare.
“We have smoothies with greens, flaxseed and blueberries with breakfast. We eat whole-grain products,” she said. “We feel great about our health choices that we model for our kids.”
Consumption of carbonated soft drinks has been in decline in the U.S. since 2005, said John Sicher, editor and publisher of the news and data service Beverage Digest. It has decreased from 10.2 billion cases a year to 9.2 billion.
In 2004, the average American drank 52.4 gallons of carbonated soft drinks a year. In 2012, that was down to 43.8 gallons. Consumption of bottled water has grown consistently over that period.
Between 1999 and 2010, daily calories from soda consumed by 2- to 5-year-olds decreased on average from 106 to 69, according to the government.
McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and other chains have changed their menus in recent years. They haven’t stopped serving Big Macs and french fries, but they are offering more foods to appeal to health-conscious diners, such as apple slices in Happy Meals, egg whites for breakfast sandwiches and whole-grain bread.
Changes in the federal Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food vouchers for the poor, may also be encouraging healthier eating. The changes — instituted in 2009 — eliminated juice from infant food packages, provided less saturated fat and made it easier to buy fruits and vegetables.
Access to fresh food
A number of programs are giving people in poor neighborhoods more access to fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables.
For example, the Sproutin’ Up program in Fort Collins, Colo., provided 2,500 pounds of locally grown produce for free to poor families last summer and will be back this year. Kids help grow the produce and run the farmers markets, telling their neighbors, “You have to try these! We grew these!”