BALTIMORE — The obesity rate among children from poor families fell in 19 states and U.S. territories in recent years, federal health officials said, the first major government report showing a consistent pattern of decline for low-income children.
The report by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the latest to find declines in obesity among American children. Several cities have reported modest drops among school-age children, offering hints of a change in course. But gains were concentrated among whites and children from middle- and upper-income families, and were not consistent across the country.
The report covered the period from 2008 to 2011 and offered what researchers said was the clearest evidence to date that the obesity epidemic may be turning a corner for 2- to 4-year-olds from low-income families. Children from poor families have had some of the highest rates of obesity, which have remained elevated even as rates among more affluent children in some cities have started to drop.
One in eight U.S. preschoolers is obese. Among low-income children it is 1 in 7.
The study is the first conducted at the state level to suggest that the obesity trend among U.S. children may be abating. In December, the CDC announced that on a nationwide level the rate of obesity among low-income preschoolers fell 1.8 percent between 2003 and 2010.
“This is the first time we have this many states in the U.S. showing a decline,” said Heidi Blanck, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who is an author of the report. “This is really broad. Until now it's been a patchwork.”
Blanck offered several theories. Children now consume fewer calories from sugary beverages than they did in 1999, she said. And more women are breast-feeding, which often leads to healthier weight gain for young children. CDC researchers also have chronicled a drop in overall calories for children in the past decade, down by 7 percent for boys and 4 percent for girls, but experts said those declines were too small to make much difference.
Another possible explanation is that some combination of the state, local and federal policies aimed at reducing obesity is starting to have an effect. Many scientists doubt that anti-obesity programs work, but proponents of the programs say a broad set of policies applied systematically over a period of time could have a chance.
This report includes material from Bloomberg News.