The Corner

Does Obesity Report Prove the ‘Let’s Move’ Campaign Works?

Researchers of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), have found that obesity rates among children aged two- to five-years-old have declined by around 40 percent in the past eight years from an obesity rate of 13.9 percent in 2003–2004 to 8.4 percent in 2011–2012.

Obesity rates for every other age group remained nearly stable, with no other age group experiencing a decline greater than 1.4 points and most age groups experiencing a slight increase in obesity rates. However, because obesity has been shown to take hold while young, a decline in obesity rates among the very young is taken as a positive sign, despite the fact that researchers stress “there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults” in the last eight years.

While researchers do not know the precise reason for the decline in this age bracket, news reports have offered a variety of speculations from increases in breast feeding to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign.

I have previously written that Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign has not had a visible effect on obesity rates and that obesity rates among youth had begun to decline before the campaign began in 2010.

While the JAMA study neither confirms nor invalidates my previous report, it offers evidence that obesity rates have, in fact, declined among two- to five-year-olds since “Let’s Move” was initiated in 2010, though obesity rates for other childhood age groups didn’t improve as much.

The above table, issued in the full study, gives a yearly breakdown of obesity rates from 2003 to 2012. From 2009–2010 to 2011–2012, two-to five-year-olds saw a 3.7 point decrease in obesity rates, a fairly large decrease for one year. There are many possible reasons for this decrease, and “Let’s Move” may be one of them.

However, those aged six to eleven saw a decrease in only 1.1 points from 2009–2010 to 2011–2012 while those aged twelve to 19 saw an increase of 3.1 points in the same period. Considering the “Let’s Move” campaign is directed at youth in general, not merely those aged two to five, any attributing any influence to the “Let’s Move” campaign must take into account the change in obesity rates among other age groups that the campaign was directed toward. In all, childhood obesity rates, measured in those aged two to 19, decreased by only 0.2 points.

Any decrease in obesity rates is welcomed, however, the researchers made clear that, despite the small bit of good news, “obesity prevalence remains high and thus it is important to continue surveillance.”

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