For decades, childhood obesity rates have been on the rise. Now some U.S. cities, including Philadelphia, New York City and Los Angeles, are seeing progress in their fight against fat. Declining childhood obesity rates have also been reported in parts of Mississippi, the state with the highest obesity rate in the nation.
The first drops in the number of overweight children came in a September report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation works to improve health for Americans. New York City showed a 5.5% drop in the number of overweight children from 2007 to 2011. Philadelphia showed a 4.7% drop, and Los Angeles a 3% drop.
Making the Effort
From 1980 to 2000, the percentage of obese U.S. kids aged 6 to 19 tripled. About 9 million children were excessively overweight. Being overweight can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure. Type 2 diabetes, once considered an adult disease, has increased greatly in young people.
In 2011, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began a project to combat childhood obesity. The project’s goal is to find ways to make healthy changes in a community’s schools, food stores, parks and other places.
“Obese children are more likely to have asthma, depression, diabetes, and other serious and costly health problems,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden in a statement. “This project will help figure out ways our children can grow up to lead long, healthy and productive lives.”
The cities and states with declining childhood obesity rates have followed the CDC’s suggestions. Philadelphia works with an organization called the Food Trust to connect schools with local farms and bring fresh vegetables to cafeterias. New York City has required chain restaurants to post calorie information on their menus. Mississippi created a program called “Fruits & Veggies: More Matters” to teach kids how to add healthy foods to their daily diets.
Schools nationwide are doing their part. Fried food has disappeared from many cafeteria menus. Whole-wheat bread has replaced white bread. Drinks like water and low-fat milk have replaced sugary beverages, including fruit punch, sports drinks and soda. Many schools have banned junk food and require healthier snack options in vending machines.
Jim Marks of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the group that issued the obesity report, thinks the message is clear. “Any community that makes these kind of changes over a few years will see their children get healthier,” he told TIME’s Alexandra Sifferlin. “They will see these improvements and, we hope, more over time.”