Lighten up: In some cities, childhood obesity is declining

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A little good news in the nation's battle against obesity is worth acknowledging, but it's too soon to celebrate -- and let's hold the cake.

America still has a lot of weight to lose.

Two-thirds of adults in the country are overweight or obese, and children have not been immune. Childhood obesity rates have tripled since 1980 and, if that doesn't change dramatically, the health consequences for them in adulthood will be dire.

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

In a three-year period ending in the 2009-10 school year, it dropped 4.7 percent among Philadelphia children in kindergarten to 12th grade and 5.5 percent among New York City youngsters in kindergarten to eighth grade. Declines also were reported in Mississippi and California. The four areas have one thing in common: They've all been leaders in enacting public policies to improve eating habits.

Although experts can't say for sure what caused the declines in Philadelphia and New York, both cities implemented standards to improve the nutritional content of foods and beverages available in schools. An effort in Philadelphia has helped 640 corner stores to stock healthier foods, bring supermarkets to underserved neighborhoods and make sure farmers' markets accept food stamps.

The improvement is significant, but there is a long way to go. A little more than 20 percent of children in those cities still are obese and, nationwide, nearly one-third of children and teens are either obese or overweight.

Some remedies will come through changes in public policy. For example, the RWJ Foundation and the Trust for America's Health 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 both in schools and in communities.

Efforts also must begin at home.

ABC's "Good Morning America" broadcast the story Dec. 10 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, and it worked. They limited fat intake to 20 grams and began walking four miles a day, no matter the weather. Eventually, Breanna added more exercise, and she lost 66 pounds in less than a year.

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

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