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"Improvements in national, state and caregiver guidance around nutrition and physical activity may be contributing to this decline in childhood obesity," said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We are moving in the right direction, and helping parents make healthy choices for their children is reducing the potential for complications posed by childhood obesity later in life," he added in a CDC news release.
In the study, U.S. federal government researchers analyzed obesity trends from 2010 to 2016 among more than 12.4 million children, aged 2 to 4, in low-income families enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC helps provide supplemental foods and nutrition education.
In 2009, WIC state agencies started providing food packages more in line with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans and infant feeding practice guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics. This led to increased availability of healthier foods and beverages for WIC enrollees.
Between 2010 and 2016, obesity rates fell by more than 3% in seven WIC states and territories (New Jersey, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico).
However, three states had increases in obesity: Alabama (0.5%), North Carolina (0.6%), and West Virginia (2.2%).
The study appears in the Nov. 21 issue of the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
A previous study found that 34 of 56 WIC state/territory agencies had decreases in obesity rates between 2010 and 2014.
Currently, the WIC program also helps establish successful long-term breastfeeding, provides participants with a wider variety of foods, and offers WIC state agencies flexibility in food packages for participants with cultural food preferences.
Despite these declines in obesity among children enrolled in WIC, rates remained high in most states in 2016.
"While we have seen some progress, obesity prevalence among young children remains too high," said Dr. Ruth Petersen, director of CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity.
"We must persist in our efforts to support healthy eating and physical activity for this positive trend to continue," Petersen said in the release.
-- Robert Preidt
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