It is the first good news in 30 years for the United States and their childhood obesity epidemic. After a long, steady march to higher and higher levels of overweight kids, we are starting to reverse the trend. But parents shouldn’t break out the carrot sticks and fat-free ranch in celebration just yet. There’s still a lot of work to do.
Today, the New York Times announced a variety of different statistics showing obesity rates on the decline in major cities across the country. From Philadelphia to Los Angeles, the numbers were significant and suggested that the recent battle to make our kids healthier is having a positive effect. In fact, the statistics were downright shocking.
Deanna M. Hoelscher, a researcher at the University of Texas, who in 2010 recorded one of the earliest declines — among mostly poor Hispanic fourth graders in the El Paso area — did a double-take. “We reran the numbers a couple of times,” she said. “I kept saying, ‘Will you please check that again for me?’ ”
However, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is helping engineer this trend reversal. In Philadelphia, it’s minority children who saw the biggest decline in obesity rates. Other experts say that across the country, it was mostly affluent, white children who brought down their percentages. These are the children least likely to be overweight or obese to begin with.
As researchers try to figure out which government health initiatives, nationwide marketing campaigns, or school system policies might have caused this shift that the country has needed for such a long time, parents should probably keep their noses to the grindstone and continue to help their children make healthier choices. In fact, I would argue that all of those possible impetuses for change really had a combined cultural effect that is much greater than the sum of its parts. The fact is, we’ve changed how we look at obesity as a nation. And that’s changing the most influential piece of the childrearing puzzle. It’s changing how we parent.
Parents now realize the dangers of frequent trips to McDonald’s. We take our kids to the farmer’s market, trying to introduce them to fresh produce and healthy snacks. We read the studies and we share our recipes with hundreds of our closest friends online. There has been a distinctive change in how we see children’s nutrition.
Policy experts are noting all of the things we still need to do. They’re talking soda taxes and the struggles in school cafeterias. Parents shouldn’t be worried about any of that. We need to focus on what we know best: our own children. We need to continue talking to them about healthy nutrition. We need to continue giving them positive role models for an active lifestyle. Parents need to keep doing what they’re doing, then we need to help and encourage anyone who asks for support.