The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been the bearer of bad news when it comes to childhood obesity. The curse of America's expanding waistline has never failed to overlook the nation's children.
But instead of releasing another round of grim statistics, a new CDC report covering 2008 to 2011 says the obesity rate for 2- to 4-year-olds in low-income families has slipped.
The decline is a small part of a broader trend among children, including those from middle-class households and those whose parents are well-educated. One in eight pre-schoolers across the nation is obese, generally speaking. Among low-income children, the figure is 1 in 7.
The CDC said the decline in obesity rates was modest -- 1 percentage point or less -- in 19 states, while three states -- Pennsylvania, Colorado and Tennessee -- had increases. The drop isn't as big as it could be, but it is headed in the right direction. It's also close to a reversal of previous statistics that showed obesity increases in 24 states and declines in only four.
Why Pennsylvania, with a childhood obesity rate that rose from 11.5 percent in 2008 to 12.2 percent in 2011, bucked the national trend is unknown. The state can be consoled, though, in still having one of the lowest rates in the country.
The reason for so much concern about the issue is understandable. Obese children are five times more likely to become obese adults, meaning their adult years will consist of taking various medicines to control diabetes and heart disease. They will also be prime targets for cancer and other maladies.
The CDC is not sure why the childhood obesity rate is declining so broadly, but a combination of more informed parents, more breast-feeding and more nutritious foods being consumed by low-income people may be part of the answer. White House initiatives on childhood exercise, healthier food choices at school and home gardening could not have hurt either.
It's too early to celebrate, but the new numbers are reason to pass the vegetables and skip the ice cream.