Childhood Obesity Rates Declines
September 16, 2013

Modest Victories In The War Against Childhood Obesity

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

A new study from the University of Massachusetts, Boston claims that attempts to ward off the childhood obesity epidemic may already be showing signs of success. According to new data, teenagers in middle and high school are making better choices about their diet and after-school activities.

Researchers surveyed the students over the span of ten years and found a slight increase in the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables they're eating. More encouraging, say the researchers, is the number of these students who say they’re physically active for at least 60 minutes every day. As these teenagers spend more time being active, they spend less time in front of the television, a sedentary habit which, when combined with poor diet, could lead to diabetes and heart disease.

Though the study highlights some promising results, the improvements since 2001 are admittedly modest. This research also did not find any decline in the number of obese and overweight teens, likely because these improvements are so slight. The results of the survey are published in the journal Pediatrics.

"Efforts to increase adolescent physical activity and reduce time spent watching television may be working," said authors of the study Ronald Iannotti, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts Boston and Jing Wang, PhD, of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in a statement.

Health organizations, public and private school systems and many government programs have been working to stem the tide of childhood obesity. Though there is ongoing research to understand how effective these efforts have been thus far, Iannotti and Wang set out to understand what makes these efforts successful or unsuccessful.

To find out, the pair analyzed surveys given to teenagers in the sixth to tenth grades in 2001-2002, 2005-2006 and 2009-2010 school years. These surveys, a part of the Health Behavior in School-aged Children study, each included between 9,000 and 15,000 teens. After compiling the results, Iannotti and Wang noted that the reported amount of physical activity had increased from 2001 to 2010. The earliest surveys reported teenagers were only active for 60 minutes about 4.3 days out of the week. In 2010 the number increased slightly to 4.5. Though more teens were found to be getting out and active, the amount of time spent playing video games did not change between 2005 and 2010.

The number of children who eat breakfast each morning is also on the rise, but only slightly. On average teens said they ate breakfast three days out of the week in 2001. This number increased to 3.3 by 2010. The number of teens who reported eating fresh fruit and veggies also saw a meager increase. According to survey results, teenagers ate fruit two to four days on average in 2001. This number rose to five or six days a week by 2010.

The same teenagers reported eating vegetables two to three days a week in 2001 and four to five days a week by 2010. Though they ate these fresh foods more often, the study found they were still eating less than a complete serving by 2010. Teenagers also reported drinking sugary sodas less frequently, dropping from five days a week to four.

"Over the previous decades, the pattern had been that kids were getting less physical activity, and it's been very hard to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption,” said Iannotti in a statement. "We've got a long way to go, but the good news is that those are increasing."

Though the improvements are so slight, they’re still promising for those concerned about the childhood obesity epidemic. The American Heart Association (AHA), for instance, recently issued a report claiming that obese children are four times as likely to develop high blood pressure as adults than their normal-weight peers.