Obesity Rates Dropping in U.S. Preschoolers

Image: Cubbies line a classroom
Obesity rates are falling among U.S. preschoolers, new health figures show. John Moore / Getty Images, file

Obesity rates are falling among America’s pudgy preschoolers, perhaps the latest sign that the super-sized nation is getting a handle on its weight problem, according to new figures from government health officials.

Obesity among kids ages 2 to 5 dropped by 43 percent between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012, from 14 percent of children to 8 percent, data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

It’s the brightest spot in a report that found that overall obesity held steady but remains high in the U.S., with about one-third of adults and 17 percent of kids and teens still medically obese. Nearly a third of all kids ages 2 to 19 and more than two-thirds of adults remain either overweight or obese, CDC officials found.

“We continue to see signs that, for some children in this country, the scales are tipping,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, who added that the new data echo other recent encouraging studies about obesity in preschoolers. “This confirms that at least for kids, we can turn the tide and begin to reverse the obesity epidemic.”


The preschool drop is particularly encouraging in light of recent research that found that overweight kindergarteners are four times as likely as normal-weight kids to become obese by middle-school.

“This is the second report that shows that things have plateaued," said Dr. Adrienne Youdim, medical director of the Cedars-Sinai Weight Loss Center in Los Angeles.

The new data are based on analysis of 9,120 participants in the 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative sample. Obesity had been rising for years, until the 2009-2010 figures.

The findings show obesity among women older than 60 jumped more than 20 percent from 2003-2004 to 2011-2012, climbing from 31.5 percent to 38 percent. It’s not clear why older women are so much heavier, Youdim said. Menopause may play a role, and women may be more sedentary as they age.

“There are so many factors at play,” she said. “In order to really make a dent in this epidemic, it has to be not in the area of treatment, though it’s important, but in the area of prevention.”