Childhood obesity was on the decline, or so it seemed. Both scientific journals and media outlets, including from NPR as late as 2012, have reported within the last decade that its numbers were moving down. The numbers have moved — in the wrong direction, according to a prominent new study which shows the highest spike in obesity among children 2 – 5 since 1999 and recent NPR coverage.
Listeners pointed to fad diets, genetics and food insecurity as reasons they’ve encountered childhood obesity. Dr. David Ludwig of Boston Children’s Hospital has been studying these factors for decades. He spoke with NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro about these factors and what science got wrong about obesity.
The false numbers saying childhood obesity was on the decline seemed to make sense after Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program and other prominent public health measures — public health experts had hoped that obesity prevalence would respond to these efforts. Unfortunately, as we now know from these new statistics, those efforts were a mirage rather than a true glimmer.
When you look at short-term studies, movement in the result numbers can go up and down without any real meaning. Looking back, public health experts now know that the changes we thought we saw were really just statistical flukes, and that obesity rates among children are the highest ever.
Usually, what makes an adult gain weight will make a child gain weight, too — but there are some unique factors that apply to kids. Home environments and parenting practices are key for keeping children healthy. It’s not enough to just tell a child what to eat; as parents, we need to model it ourselves.