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Turning the Tide on Early Childhood Obesity

Posted by Dr. Janey Thornton, Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services in Food and Nutrition Farming
Feb 21, 2017
CDC Study finds Obesity rates among low-income preschoolers declining in many states. Credit: CDC
CDC Study finds Obesity rates among low-income preschoolers declining in many states. Credit: CDC

Here at USDA, we’re on a mission to help all of our nation’s children have the best possible chance at a healthy life.  So, we’re very encouraged by some recent news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):  the rate of obesity among low-income pre-school children appears to be declining for the first time in decades.

The declining rates show that our collective efforts are helping to gain ground on childhood obesity, particularly among some of the more vulnerable populations in our country.  Low-income children are often at a disadvantage when it comes to getting the food they need to grow up healthy, which is why USDA’s nutrition programs and resources are so vital.

USDA programs like WIC—with its new, healthier food package offerings, and CACFP—with its increasing emphasis on nutrition and physical activity are making a difference in the lives of millions of children.  In addition, educational materials like Healthy Eating for Preschoolers and Nutrition and Wellness Tips for Young Children can help adults get children off to the right start in life.

Our efforts don’t stop there. School-aged children are now getting healthier and more nutritious school meals and snacks, thanks to changes implemented under the historic Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.  Our Team Nutrition initiative provides nutrition education to help schools serve healthier meals and motivate kids to form healthy habits. We’re supporting healthy, local foods in schools through our Farm to School grant program. And we’re improving access to fresh produce and healthy foods for children and families that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

Don’t get me wrong—we still have a long way to go before America’s childhood obesity epidemic is a thing of the past.  Far too many—1 out of every 8—preschoolers are still obese.  And, obesity in these early childhood years sets the stage for serious health problems throughout the entire lifespan.  But we at USDA are proud of our ongoing efforts to ensure the health of America’s next generation, and we know that these efforts are playing a vital role in turning the tide on early childhood obesity. Learn more about USDA’s efforts to improve child nutrition or visit for quick, easy nutrition and diet tips for families.

Read more: Let’s Move!: Evidence of Progress: New CDC Report Shows Declines in Childhood Obesity Rates Among Low-Income Preschoolers

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition Farming

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P Forister
Aug 07, 2013

While I'm encouraged by the decrease in obesity in Pre-K children I'm concerned about the psychological stress that is put on obese children by those that are not obese.

So much emphasis is placed on not being over weight that it puts a stigma on those that are. This emphasis shouldn't create or intensify bullying situations.

Kip Kolesinskas
Aug 08, 2013

I credit the Dept, Administration, and Ms. Obama for these changes to our food system, institutions, and public perceptions. There have been some great programs and initiatives for State and local partners. We continue to need to make changes to make it easier to get local foods into schools, institutions, and homes. Thank you for pushing forward against all the interests that don't want to change the system!

David J Blair
Aug 28, 2013

Starvation is an excellent diet.

Kayla L. S.
Nov 27, 2014

Childhood obesity is such a big issue that seems to be over looked at times. The health issues that follow childhood obesity are astonishing. One example would be the strong correlation between things such as childhood hypertension and obesity. Around 37% of children who have hypertension are also overweight or obese. This means there is a 2.5-3.7 times higher risk of obese children having hypertension as opposed to healthy weight children (Herouvi et al.).
I think that improving school lunches as mentioned in the article, will help the problem of childhood obesity. I also found that parents can play a big role in the prevention as well. By encouraging healthy eating habits as well as physical activities, parents can set their children on the path for a healthy life style. Understanding serving sizes for children of different ages can prevent overeating. For example, in the four to six year old age range, portion sizes from the grain group would be one slice of bread, or a ½ cup of pasta. From the vegetable group, 1 cup of raw leafy vegetable. From the fruit group, one piece of fruit is considered one serving. When it comes to meat, 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, chicken or fish is sufficient. (“Preventing Childhood Obesity”). These simple fixes can go a long way in solving the problem of childhood obesity.

Herouvi D, et al. “Cardiovascular disease in childhood: the role of obesity”. European Journal of Pediatrics. 172.6 (2013): 721-732. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Nov. 2014.
“Preventing Childhood Obesity: Tips for Parents”. Department of health Information for a Healthy New York. n.p. June 2012. Web. 18 Nov. 2014.