A big problem solved?

Rejoice in the new report from the National Center for Health Statistics that suggests that childhood obesity rates may have plateaued. But rejoice for only a moment. As David Ludwig of Children's Hospital Boston wrote in a commentary released with the report, "We're not out of the woods by any stretch. Even if the rates don't go up any more, they are so high that the full impact of the childhood obesity epidemic will continue for the next few decades."

It's an epidemic that has been more than two decades in the making. Through a combination of factors, which resulted in reduced physical activity and increased consumption of fat-laden snacks and meals, the waistlines of American children have ballooned. And the health consequences have been significant. Ailments that historically have plagued only adults are showing up in children ranging in age from 6 to 17. Gallbladder disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease are just a few of the health complications they face.

Given such grim prospects, it's only natural to want to celebrate the news from the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week. Using data collected from two surveys of 8,165 children and adolescents (ages 2 to 19) in 2003-04 and 2004-05, the scientists saw no statistically significant change in obesity. Making the good news better was the discovery by researchers that there was no significant increase in weight when they compared those data with measurements from as far back as 1999. And this trend was seen across the board, in terms of race, ethnicity and gender.

Individual efforts being made around the United States to combat childhood obesity may be having an impact. Parents, schools, local and state governments, the food industry and others see this epidemic for the medical emergency it is. A 2005 special report in the New England Journal of Medicine warned, "Unless effective population-level interventions to reduce obesity are developed, the steady rise in life expectancy observed in the modern era may soon come to an end and the youth of today may, on average, live less healthy and possibly even shorter lives than their parents." That sad prospect remains.

"" The Washington Post

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