The new Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's Vital Signs report shows declines in childhood obesity rates in 19 states and territories among 2 to 4 year olds in low-income families.
"We can make a difference," said American Heart Association Deputy Chief Medical Officer Eduardo Sanchez.
"This new report reaffirms that progress is being made to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015. Several states and communities have shown declines in elementary school age children, and now CDC is now seeing small but significant declines among preschool age children in low-income families," Sanchez said in a statement.
"There is cause to celebrate, but more work is ahead of us," he said. "We must continue the momentum in communities making progress and redouble our efforts in communities that are seeing increases or are stagnant. While one in eight preschoolers is obese, rates are higher in black and Hispanic children ages 2 to 5."
Voices for Healthy Kids, a Dallas-based a national advocacy initiative focused on childhood obesity, applauds the many cities and states that are committed to helping children achieve a healthy lifestyle.
Some communities have opened up more playgrounds and parks, more trails and bike lanes, and encouraged their residents to get active, the American Heart Association said.
Some communities are recruiting farmers markets and new grocers to low-income neighborhoods, setting up small farm stands, and connecting farmers to corner stores.
"Communities are finding ways to improve the healthfulness of snacks and meals at child care centers and ensuring these young children get active each and every day," Sanchez said.
Michigan showed small declines in obesity among low-income preschoolers. Following decades of rising rates nationally, Michigan decreased from 13.9 percent in 2008 to 13.2 percent in 2011.
"Over the past several years, we have been implementing evidence-based strategies to reduce obesity rates in Michigan through collaborative efforts with statewide partners," said James K. Haveman, Director of the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH).
"We are seeing a modest, but significant decrease in rates for some of our youngest citizens, and that is encouraging. Our work will continue in an effort to encourage and support healthier lifestyles which will influence healthier weight," Haveman said in a statement.
Steps continue to be taken to decrease barriers to healthy eating and physical activity for low-income families with children in an effort to decrease obesity rates, including the release and implementation of the Michigan Health and Wellness 4 x 4 Plan, Haveman said.
Examples include efforts to improve nutrition and increase physical activity in child care centers through the implementation of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Self-Assessment for Child Care; improvements and upgrades in farmers markets across the state to increase access in affordable, healthy food; increased access to opportunities for physical activity such as community park renovations; and strategies to improve access to resources and support for postpartum breastfeeding mothers.
Wisconsin childhood obesity, however, remains unchanged.
In Wisconsin, 31 percent of preschool children participating in the WIC program are considered overweight or obese.
Wisconsin is among 20 states that have held steady on the prevalence of obesity among children 2 to 4 whose families were enrolled in the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides food vouchers and other services.
Previous research shows that, nationally, about one in eight preschoolers is obese in the U.S., and children are five times more likely to be overweight or obese as an adult if they are overweight or obese between the ages of 3 and 5.
The CDC report also revealed that these rates of early childhood obesity were either stable or improving in most of the states and territories included in the analysis.
Obesity rates remain too high, though, and sustained efforts and additional work is needed to continue the downward trend, Haveman said.
"But even with all we're doing, and the signs of progress we're seeing, we can - and we must - do more, " he said. "The good news is that we know that we can make a difference. We call upon parents, businesses and community leaders to join the American Heart Association and all interested partners to continue to improve the health of our children."
To reverse the childhood obesity epidemic, Voices for Healthy Kids pursues policy-change strategies that research and practice suggest will have the greatest impact.
Those strategies are focused on six key areas:
- Improving the nutritional quality of snack foods and beverages in schools.
- Reducing consumption of sugary beverages.
- Protecting children from unhealthy food and beverage marketing.
- Increasing access to affordable healthy foods.
- Increasing access to parks, playgrounds, walking paths, bike lanes and other opportunities to be physically active.
- Helping schools and youth-serving programs increase children's physical activity levels.