Wednesday, January 29, 2014

State Of The Union: President Obama Salutes First Lady For Decline In Child Obesity Rates

The President speaking to the nation
Parsing the numbers behind the praise...
Washington, DC - During his State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama called for bipartisan cooperation to make 2014 "a breakthrough year for America," and pointed to First Lady Michelle Obama as an icon for action, saying her Let's Move! campaign has "helped bring down childhood obesity rates for the first time in 30 years."

America will soon be hearing much more about this:  In ten days, Mrs. Obama celebrates the fourth anniversary of Let's Move!, which she formally launched on Feb 9, 2010.

"As usual, our First Lady sets a good example," President Obama said, and was then interrupted as the entire audience rose to its feet to give his wife a standing ovation. 

"Michelle’s Let's Move! partnership with schools, businesses, local leaders has helped bring down childhood obesity rates for the first time in 30 years," President Obama continued.  "And that’s an achievement that will improve lives and reduce health care costs for decades to come." 

What decline was Mr. Obama referring to?  His praise seems to be for a very modest but statistically significant drop in obesity among low-income pre-schoolers between 2008 and 2011, noted in a report issued in August '13 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Using federal health survey data for 11.6 million children ages 2-4 enrolled in federally funded maternal- and child-nutrition programs, researchers analyzed 40 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories (U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico). 

*20 reported obesity rates that held steady.

*19 saw declines under 1%, with just Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, South Dakota, and the U.S. Virgin Islands having a 1% decrease.  

*3 states had rates that went up slightly.  

After climbing since the 1970s, obesity rates among low-income preschoolers had already started to level off from 2003 through 2008, according to CDC.  But until the survey published in August, researchers did not find any statistically significant declines.  

CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. issued a statement with the report, declaring that "obesity remains epidemic," because overall about one in eight or 12% of preschoolers are obese, putting them at risk for adult obesity and its attendant diseases.

But Frieden added that "while the changes are small, for the first time in a generation they are going in the right direction."  The nation may have reached "a tipping point," Frieden said. 

In June of 2011, Mrs. Obama launched Let's Move! Childcare, a program specifically designed for early childhood interventions.  There are now 10,000 childcare programs participating, according to Let's Move!.

More declines:  There have also been declines in obesity rates in specific populations in certain areas, such as in New York and Philadelphia.  Mrs. Obama visited Mississippi in 2013 to celebrate the third anniversary of her campaign, because the state had a 13.3% drop in obesity for white children in grades K-5.  It occurred over six years between Spring 2005, when Mississippi's rate was 43%, and Spring 2011, when it was reported at 37.3%, according to a September '12 report released by the Center for Mississippi Health Policy.

The national prevalence for obesity among children ages 2-19 was at about 17% (12 million children) when Mrs. Obama launched her campaign in 2010, and remains essentially unchanged today, hovering at 16.9-17%, depending on whom is crunching the data.  The overriding goal of Let's Move! is to reduce the national prevalence to just 5% by 2030.

For those unfamiliar with obesity tracking, children are categorized as obese if their BMI is at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex, according to the 2000 CDC Growth Charts. 

CLICK HERE for the transcript and video of the President's address.

CLICK HERE for the full CDC report, Vital Signs: Obesity Among Low-Income, Preschool-Aged Children — United States, 2008–2011.

*Photo by Chuck Kennedy/White House