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Obesity rates drop sharply for 2- to 5-year-olds: Study

Michelle Obama proposes new limits on food/beverage advertising in schools

Jacque Wilson | 2/26/2014, 6 a.m.
First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a "Let's Move!" and "Sesame Street" public service announcement taping with Big Bird in the White House Kitchen, Feb. 13, 2013 Lawrence Jackson/The White House

— Obesity rates of children ages 2 to 5 years old have decreased significantly over the past decade, according to a new study published Tuesday.

While there were no significant changes in obesity rates for most ages between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012, researchers saw a sharp decrease in the obesity rates of 2- to 5-year-olds -- from 13.9% to 8.4%, according to the study published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A big part of a child's obesity risk is already established by age 5, according to a study published in January.

The study findings were announced the same day as first lady Michelle Obama proposed new rules to limit the types of foods and beverages that can be advertised in schools and marked the fourth anniversary of her Let's Move! initiative to combat child obesity.

Under the suggested federal regulations, companies would no longer be permitted to use logos of high-calorie products such as regular sodas on cups, vending machines or posters.

The move is part of the first lady's ongoing efforts to combat childhood obesity in America.

According to the new JAMA study, close to 17% of children aged 2 to 19 were obese in 2011-2012. That number has remained fairly constant since 2003-2004, dropping just 0.2%.

More than a third of adults over 20 were obese that same year, a number that held steady over the study's time period. The prevalence is often higher in women and in Hispanic and non-Hispanic black populations.

Four years ago this month, Obama announced that she was taking on childhood obesity with a new initiative called Let's Move! The comprehensive program was part parental education, part government reform -- with a bit of celebrity encouragement thrown in.

"About one-third of our children are overweight or obese. None of us want that for our country," Obama said at the time. "It's time to get moving."

Let's Move! had several objectives under its broader ambition of "solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation." Obama wanted to increase physical activity and improve nutrition in schools, overhaul nutrition labels to make healthy choices easier for families, decrease the number of calories in restaurant meals and eliminate food deserts -- areas without access to fresh, healthy foods -- in cities across America.

In December 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law, which was designed to encourage better eating habits in schools by giving the federal government more authority to set standard for food sold on school grounds. The $4.5 billion act provided more money to subsidize free meals and help administrators offset the higher costs of including more fruits and vegetables in school lunches.

Then in June 2011, the USDA dismantled the traditional food pyramid and replaced it with a new icon called MyPlate. The plate emphasizes fruits and vegetables, telling Americans to fill half of every plate they eat with produce. Another quarter of the plate should be lean protein; the last quarter should be whole grains. A small portion of dairy -- perhaps a glass of low-fat milk -- can be added on the side.