Childhood obesity rates on the rise in Pa. through 2011

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For decades, the obesity rate among low-income preschool-age children has risen. But a report issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this week shows a possible reversal in the trend in some states.

Not, however, in Pennsylvania.

From 2008 to 2011, the Atlanta-based CDC collected height and weight data from about 11.6 million children ages 2 to 4 who participated in the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System across 43 U.S. states and territories. On Tuesday, the government agency published a report showing that, after decades of rising obesity rates, the prevalence had declined in 19 of the 43 states and territories studied and had remained statistically consistent in 21.

But in three states -- Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Colorado -- the childhood obesity rate increased.

The CDC report said factors such as local and state initiatives focused on nutrition and exercise, as well as increases in breastfeeding, might explain in part the trend reversal. But the report gave no clear reasons for why the obesity rate decreased in some states or increased in others.

"That's the million-dollar question," said Dana Rofey of the Weight Management & Wellness Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. "I'm certainly discouraged to see it."

Although the childhood obesity rate in Pennsylvania increased from 11.5 percent in 2008 to 12.2 percent in 2011, the state continues to have one of the lowest childhood obesity rates in the country.

Reducing childhood obesity "is and continues to be a public health goal of the Secretary of Health," said a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health. A new program is being developed to increase the amount of physical activity for children at early childcare centers.

High adult obesity rates have made reducing childhood obesity a goal for doctors, researchers and policy-makers, because overweight preschoolers are five times as likely to become obese adults compared to their peers with normal weight.

"We know that the earlier we intervene, the better off the outcome," said Ms. Rofey, who advises parents to encourage their children to be physically active, to ensure they are eating and drinking proper serving sizes for their age and that their diet includes fruits and vegetables.

And though she was discouraged by the report, she said she also saw it as an opportunity to better communicate to families how to maintain healthy weights.

For the three states where the obesity rate increased, the evidence that childhood obesity is on a downward decline in other states is a positive development, said Ashleigh May, lead author of the CDC report.

"It may be that with continued monitoring, we may again see declines in the states where we are seeing increases as well," she said.

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Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.


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