U.S. obesity rates fall for children ages 2-5 but rise for older adults

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WASHINGTON -- While adults and older children continue to struggle with obesity, America's 2- to 5-year-olds appear to be slimming down.

The prevalence of obesity among children in the preschool set has fallen from nearly 14 percent in 2003 and 2004 to 8.4 percent in 2011 and 2012. That's a 43 percent decline, according to new survey data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I was kind of excited to see this decrease in the young children and this potential for good news in the story," said Cynthia L. Ogden, a Maryland-based CDC epidemiologist and branch chief for the survey.

Much of the decline among young children ages 2-5 occurred over the final two years of the study, as their obesity rates fell roughly 33 percent -- from just over 12 percent in 2009-2010 to just over 8 percent in 2011-2012.

But 1 in 3 U.S. adults -- 33 percent -- and 1 in 6, or 17 percent, of all young people ages 2-19 are still considered obese, according to the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which appears in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In fact, obesity rates for older adults increased from 31 percent in 2003-2004 to 35.4 percent in 2011-2012. Women age 60 and older fueled the increase, with obesity rates jumping from 31.5 percent in 2003-2004 to 38.1 percent in 2011-2012, the survey found.

The authors concluded that "obesity prevalence remains high, and thus it is important to continue surveillance."

What is behind the falling obesity rates for toddlers is unclear. The CDC said it could reflect efforts by child care centers to improve nutrition and physical activity standards, as well as a decline in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Increased breast-feeding rates also could be helping, since the activity helps stave off obesity in breast-fed children, the CDC reported.


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