The Daily Need

Obesity on the decline?

The New York Times reports from Philadelphia this morning that following years of ever-increasing childhood obesity rates, several American cities may finally be getting ahead of the disturbing trend.

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Reporter Sabrina Tavernise writes:

The trend [of declining rates in childhood obesity] has emerged in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as smaller places like Anchorage, Alaska, and Kearney, Neb. The state of Mississippi has also registered a drop, but only among white students.

“It’s been nothing but bad news for 30 years, so the fact that we have any good news is a big story,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the health commissioner in New York City, which reported a 5.5 percent decline in the number of obese schoolchildren from 2007 to 2011.

The drops are small, just 5 percent here in Philadelphia and 3 percent in Los Angeles. But experts say they are significant because they offer the first indication that the obesity epidemic, one of the nation’s most intractable health problems, may actually be reversing course.

But what’s behind this new-found success in an area that for years had stumped policy makers? Researchers say it’s too soon to tell.

But at least one federal program may be worth a closer look. In 2010, President Barack Obama passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to combat the country’s high obesity rates among children. Under the new laws, the National School Lunch Program — a service that provides reduced or no-cost meals to 32 million kids in public and non-profit private schools across the nation — planned to dramatically change the foods that are served in schools.

In August, Need to Know spoke with Ann Cooper, a former celebrity chef turned school nutritionist who has been at the forefront of the national debate on school lunches since 1999. Cooper explained why the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was important, but also expressed frustration that the legislation did not go far enough.

Read our Q&A with the “Renegade Lunch Lady” to find out more on how politicians and advocates alike are taking on childhood obesity.

 
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