Detailed in a September report [PDF] by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, small but significant drops in childhood obesity rates in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, and smaller places like Anchorage, Alaska, and Kearney, Nebraska, "offer the first indication that the obesity epidemic, one of the nation’s most intractable health problems, may actually be reversing course," writes Tavernise.
“'It’s been nothing but bad news for 30 years, so the fact that we have any good news is a big story,'” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the health commissioner in New York City, which reported a 5.5 percent decline in the number of obese schoolchildren from 2007 to 2011.
While government programs at every level - from Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign to local efforts to ban sugary drinks from school vending machines - have tried to tackle the problem, Tavernise notes that researchers aren't sure what's behind the decline.
"They may be an early sign of a national shift that is visible only in cities that routinely measure the height and weight of schoolchildren...Nor is it clear whether the drops have more to do with fewer obese children entering school or currently enrolled children losing weight," says Tavernise. "But researchers note that declines occurred in cities that have had obesity reduction policies in place for a number of years."
Whatever the cause, the declines are welcome news. 17 percent of Americans under 20 are obese (triple what is was in 1980), increasing their risk of becoming obese adults and taking on the associated health risks - from heart disease to cancer to stroke.