There has been a recent leveling off of obesity rates among kids and teens in the U.S. We are still not where we need to be, in terms of healthy weight goals among the youth of America, but even a plateau is a step in the right direction.
Researchers now say that teens specifically seem to be making better lifestyle choices. The National Institute of Health supported survey of sixth through tenth graders, over a 10-year period, indicates that teens are showing more engagement with physical activity, higher consumption of fruits and vegetables, more consistency consuming breakfast, a decline in the number of hours of TV viewing, and overall, less consumption of sweets and sugary drinks.
The lead authors of the 10-year study, Iannoti and Wang, suggest that efforts to raise awareness in this particular age group to embrace healthier habits seem to be working. The survey, which was done in three stages during 2001-2002, 2005-2006, and 2009-2010, used questionnaires to assess 14,607 students in the first group; 9,150 students in the second group; and 10,848 students in the final group.
Questions covered topics including physical activity, diet, video game playing, computer use, and it relied on self-reporting for information including height and weight.
Breakfast consumption increased during the time interval between the first and second survey, while physical activity improvements were most notable in the 2009-2010 final survey. Consumption of sweets and sweet beverages seemed to decline most during the first and second survey. It should be noted that obesity rates among this group continued to rise through 2005, and then began to slowly level off.
Places including California, Mississippi, Philadelphia and New York all reported statistically significant weight declines among school-age children, with the study’s researchers suggesting that these findings may be unique to the United States.
Experts caution that there is still a long road to travel before we begin to see a significant downward trend in obesity rates among children and teens, and there was evidence that some habits were holdouts among certain ethnic groups. African-American teens are still drinking way too many sugary drinks and consuming too much sugar, while Latino kids were less likely to report increased levels of physical activity and also spent more time in front of TV and video screens.
Girls are eating more fruits and vegetables but not moving a whole lot more than their counterparts in 2001-2002. Overall, kids are watching less TV but spending more time on computers.
How do we continue to improve this trend?
We may need to use gender-specific and ethnic-specific messaging, now that we know where the so-called gains and losses are. Pediatricians may need to work harder to spend more time addressing weight and lifestyle issues during healthy and sick visits. We still need more efforts to create safe and fun community areas that allow for and encourage physical activity. But it is a good start!!