Lighten up, kids


Good news in the nation’s battle against obesity is worth acknowledging. But it’s too soon to start celebrating — and there shouldn’t be a cake.

America still has a lot of weight to lose: Two-thirds of adults in the country are overweight or obese, and children are not immune. Childhood obesity rates have tripled since 1980. If that doesn’t change dramatically, the health consequences in adulthood will be dire.

There is a glimmer of hope among the youngest Americans, reported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The prevalence of obesity among children is leveling off. For the first time in decades, some parts of the country reported declines in the obesity rate.

In a three-year period ending in the 2009-10 school year, the obesity rate dropped by 4.7 percent among Philadelphia children in kindergarten through 12th grade, and 5.5 percent among New York City youngsters in kindergarten through eighth grade. Declines also were reported in Mississippi and California. These areas have been leaders in enacting policies to improve eating habits.

Experts can’t say for sure what caused the declines in Philadelphia and New York. But both cities have enacted standards to improve the nutritional content of food and beverages available in schools. An effort in Philadelphia has helped 640 corner stores to stock healthier foods, bring supermarkets to under-served neighborhoods, and make sure farmers markets accept food stamps.

The improvement is significant, but there is a long way to go. About 20 percent of children in those cities still are obese. Nationwide, nearly one-third of children and teens are obese or overweight.

Some remedies will come through changes in public policy. The foundation and the American Health Association are collaborating to curb the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015 by improving the nutritional quality of snack foods and beverages in schools, cutting the consumption of sugary drinks, and expanding opportunities for physical activity in schools and in communities.

Efforts also must begin at home. ABC’s Good Morning America broadcast the story this week of a California girl who weighed 186 pounds by the time she was 9 years old. Breanna Bond and her family committed to changing their eating and exercise habits together.

They limited their fat intake and began walking four miles a day, no matter the weather. Eventually, Breanna exercised even more. She lost 66 pounds in less than a year. She said getting started was the hardest part, and feeling better was the most satisfying outcome.

There’s a lesson in her story for the rest of the country.