U.S. Obesity Rates Decline in Young Children

Last month the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), published a study that analyzed obesity trends in U.S. children and adults from 2003-2012. Among its most promising results, the study showed that obesity rates among 2-5 year olds dropped 40% in eight years. A decline in obesity is especially important in children, as research shows that children who are obese are more likely to have weight issues and other chronic diseases as adults. This significant decline further strengthens the belief that we can reverse the historical health trends of rising chronic disease rates to achieve a future where all people, no matter age or income, are leading healthier lives.

According to progress reports from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a handful of U.S. cities have seen declining youth obesity rates over the last few years – Anchorage, Alaska, New York City, and Philadelphia to name a few. Each of these cities has implemented targeted policy changes using unique, tailored approaches to make healthy food more widely available and integrate physical activity into everyday life. For example, Anchorage, Alaska, which witnessed a 3 percent decline in youth obesity rates, altered the City’s ten-year plan to expand public transportation, improve connectivity of its existing network of paved trails, and adopt building design standards to support physical activity. Philadelphia, which witnessed a 5 percent decline in childhood obesity rates between 2006 and 2010, created new financing systems to attract new grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods.

The Center for Active Design is pleased to see these positive health trends that are associated with the design of communities. However, we are also aware that the JAMA report points to continued disparities in health outcomes. According to a report from Active Living Research, black and Hispanic communities continue to have the highest rates of obesity and overweight in all age groups. Minorities and lower-income children are still less likely to live in well-maintained and walkable neighborhoods or have access to safe parks or recreational facilities.

Overall the news is good—we have further evidence that built environment tools are helping to reverse the negative health trends of the last few decades. The Center for Active Design looks forward to supporting communities as they build on these successes, and focusing renewed energies on areas with the greatest health needs.

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    Evidence shows that built environment tools, such as increasing access to healthy foods, has contributed to the decline in obesity rates.
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    Photo: Nicholas Whitaker Photography, courtesy of NYC Department of Transportation.