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La Tercera, Chile

Childhood Obesity in US Decreases
for First Time in 30 Years



By C. Yáñez and D. Silva

Translated By Sarah Nissen

12 December 2012

Edited by Ketu­rah Hetrick


Chile - La Tercera - Original Article (Spanish)

During the last 30 years, childhood obesity numbers in the U.S. have risen constantly. This week, however, a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation revealed that for the first time, parts of the country — including New York, California, Mississippi, parts of Alaska, and Kearney, Nebraska — are seeing a reduction in the condition, which is classified as an epidemic within the country.

Although the decrease is minor, it is the first time that it has broken the tendency to rise. “It’s been nothing but bad news for 30 years, so the fact that we have any good news is a big story,” said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley to The New York Times.

In New York City, according to the study, the number of obese students declined 5.5 percent from 2007 to 2011. In Philadelphia, obesity in children ages five to thirteen was reduced 4.7 percent. California saw a 1.1 percent reduction in children ages 10, 12 and 14 from 2005 to 2010, while Mississippi’s rate fell 13.3 percent from 2005 to 2011.

Are anti-obesity policies finally successful? For North American experts, the reasons behind this decline are still not very clear. What is clear is that anti-obesity policies have existed in all of these cities' schools for some years, and some of them are very strict.

“Growing evidence suggests that strong, far-reaching changes—those that make healthy foods available in schools and communities and integrate physical activity into people's daily lives—are working to reduce childhood obesity rates," the study’s experts conclude.

Anti-Obesity Policies

New York is known for being a pioneer in the battle against obesity with clear policies over the past ten years. In 2005, schools installed a plan that measures Body Mass Index, strength and muscular resistance, flexibility and aerobic capacity of students from kindergarten to fourth grade, according to the evaluation. The next year, restaurants were prohibited from using trans fats. Then, they closed streets in the summer so that children can play, and soda machines were removed from schools. The battle this year is to limit the size of sugary drinks to 16 ounces, a little less than half a liter.

“This week, we saw evidence that the ban is reducing New Yorkers’ fat intake and potentially saving lives. Six years from now, hopefully we are celebrating a reversal in the obesity epidemic currently killing 5,800 New Yorkers a year,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg last June.

The rest of the states have a similar formula: Philadelphia prohibited the sale of sugary drinks in schools and eliminated deep-fryers and the sale of fatty whole milk in educational establishments. The state of Mississippi required in 2007 that all public schools have more hours of physical education and healthy food distribution. That same year, California imposed strong restrictions on fat consumption inside the schools, and in 2009, prohibited the sale of drinks. A study of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation revealed that together, these policies meant that the students of California consumed 158 fewer calories each day than students from states without anti-obesity policies.

Ricardo Uauy, professor at the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (Inta) of the University of Chile, says that every growing tendency (such as the obesity numbers in the U.S.) end up stabilizing. If regulatory mechanisms, such as changes in food conduct and healthier activities, are added to this, the net effect would be a decrease in the prevalence of obesity. “It’s possible that what the study is describing reflects that both processes are working,” said Uauy.

The expansion director of Inta, Sylvia Cruchet, said that the U.S. study confirms that adding physical activity, healthy vending and nutrition education achieves advancements. “It’s very slow, that’s true, but they are achieving changes,” she pointed out.

Chilean Case

For some years now, Inta intervened in the schools of Peñalolén, Macul and Puente Alto. In the last five years in Puente Alto, the metabolic risk of children between first and sixth grade has been reduced. Sylvia Cruchet of Inta explained that the participating schools have achieved a rise in the amount of physical education, which is fragmented throughout the week. Additionally, teachers were trained to give more effective classes and another group gave healthy nutrition workshops.

Furthermore, 80 percent of kiosks’ food is healthy. “We haven’t achieved significant drops in weight, but we have seen them in metabolic risk (relation between waist circumference and height). In kilos, it has reduced one percent, but the metabolic risk, which is to say, the possibility of having heart problems or diabetes has lowered six percent,” said Cruchet.



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