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Rise in breast-feeding, health awareness cited as obesity falls among preschoolers

| Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, 5:32 p.m.

NEW YORK — The trend of rising obesity rates in the past decade may be reversing among preschoolers, according to the first national study to report a decline in the condition among young children.

The research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of obese 2- to 4-year-olds from low-income families dropped 1.8 percent from 2003 to 2010, while those who were extremely obese fell 6.8 percent. The findings were published on Tuesday in a research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers attributed the decline to greater awareness of health problems caused by obesity as well as an increase in breast-feeding, which research has shown can reduce the risk. Obesity even at such a young age can set up children for diabetes, heart disease and premature death, said Heidi Blanck, a study author.

“We've flipped from going up to really now showing a decrease,” said Blanck, acting director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the CDC. “It's a modest decrease, but at least we've changed the direction.”

Earlier studies showed that obesity levels may have reached a plateau in various age groups.

Researchers used data from the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, which includes about 50 percent of children eligible for U.S.-funded maternal and child health and nutrition programs. The study included 27.5 million 2- to 4-year-olds from 30 states and the District of Columbia.

The prevalence of obesity dropped to 14.94 percent in 2010 from 15.21 percent in 2003, according to the report. It was still higher than 13.05 percent in 1998. While the percentage of preschoolers with extreme obesity declined to 2.07 percent in 2010 from 2.22 percent in 2003, it was still higher than 1.75 percent in 1998.

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