A decade-long trend with big implications for U.S. healthcare just stepped onto center stage. Childhood obesity has dropped 43 percent in the last decade, according to a new study covered by the NYT. We’ve known about this general trend for several years, but until now the extent of the drop was relatively unknown:
A smattering of states [has] reported modest progress in reducing childhood obesity in recent years, and last year the federal authorities noted a slight decline in the obesity rate among low-income children. But the figures on Tuesday showed a sharp fall in obesity rates among all 2- to 5-year-olds, offering the first clear evidence that America’s youngest children have turned a corner in the obesity epidemic. About 8 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds were obese in 2012, down from 14 percent in 2004.“This is the first time we’ve seen any indication of any significant decrease in any group,” said Cynthia L. Ogden, a researcher for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the lead author of the report, which will be published in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, on Wednesday. “It was exciting.”
Nobody really agrees on why this has happened. People variously credit a rise in breastfeeding, changes to SNAP regulations, and reduced consumption of sugary drinks. Depending on which causes turn out to be correct, the reductions in obesity could ultimately have lots of knock-on effects. If, for example, children are less obese because they are cutting back on sugary drinks, that could mean less diabetes down the road as well.Obesity and diabetes are two expensive chronic conditions that put serious financial strains on U.S. health care. We spend a lot of time here talking about reforming the way we deliver health care. That’s one approach to bending the cost curve. But health care and health aren’t the same thing. Behavioral changes that keep people out of the hospitals or doctor’s offices are crucial for reducing pressure on the system. This decline in childhood obesity is therefore good news, as well as a reminder that cultural trends outside the purview of “health care policy” are vital to our nation’s future health.