A child shall lead: Preschoolers show how to trim the fat

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Start ’em young. That’s how some researchers think America can fix its weight problem — getting children to eat right, exercise and resist the bad habits of their parents. For once, the latest numbers from the federal Centers for Disease Control suggest that may be happening.

New survey data show that, while adults and older youths still haven’t made inroads on reducing flab, the obesity rate of children between the ages of 2 and 5 plunged by 43 percent in a span of eight years. The rate was almost 14 percent in 2003-2004, but only 8 percent in 2011-2012.

Researchers said the decline in obese preschoolers could be due to more mothers nursing, better nutrition and more physical activity at child care centers and lower consumption of sugary drinks.

This finding should be recognized by Allegheny County health officials as they launch Live Well Allegheny, a new program to promote wellness and fitness. The CDC numbers suggest that a little focus on preschoolers may produce some very encouraging results.

The children’s older family members aren’t getting the message. The agency said almost 18 percent of children between 6 and 11 remain obese, along with 20 percent of those between 12 and 19. A third of adults are still obese and, worse yet, women age 60 and older saw their rate jump from nearly 32 percent to 38 percent.

In 2009-10, a local survey showed 62 percent of adults in Allegheny County were overweight or obese.

These higher rates temper any delight over the drop in obesity among young children. But they shouldn’t discourage Americans from adopting heart-healthy behaviors.

Now that you’ve finished reading this, isn’t it time for a walk?

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