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US Childhood Obesity Dips Slightly

Update Date: Dec 27, 2012 01:14 PM EST

The number of low-income preschoolers who qualify as obese or "extremely obese" has dropped over the last decade, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Child obesity rates have tripled over the past thirty years, with the number of obese kids in the U.S. ages 6 to 11 growing from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 20 percent in 2008. That year, more than one-third of U.S. children were considered overweight or obese based on a measure of their height and weight called body mass index (BMI).

Although the decline was only "modest" and may not apply to all children, researchers said it was still encouraging.

"Obesity and extreme obesity during early childhood are likely to continue into adulthood," writes study author Dr. Liping Pan, a researcher at the CDC. "Understanding trends in extreme obesity is important because the prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors increases with severity of childhood obesity."

For the new research, Pan's team analyzed childhood obesity trends from data collected on 26.7 million U.S. children ages 2 through 4 who were enrolled in federally funded maternal and child health programs from 1998 through 2010.

Researchers found childhood obesity rates rose over the study period but now appear to be taking a turn for the better. Obesity prevalence increased from 13.05 percent in 1998 to 15.21 percent in 2003, with prevalence of extreme obesity also increasing from 1.75 percent in 1998 to 2.22 percent of kids in 2003.

"To our knowledge, this is the first national study to show that the prevalence of obesity and extreme obesity among young U.S. children may have begun to decline," wrote Pan. "The results of this study indicate modest recent progress of obesity prevention among young children."

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