Yesterday I was on the phone with the White House.
Well, with Sam Kass. Who, as you may know, is personal chef to the Obama family and Executive Director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, which is celebrating four years of programs aimed at decreasing childhood obesity.
True, true, it wasn’t just me on the line with the esteemed and accomplished Mr. Kass. It was a bevy of bloggers, invited by BlogHer (one of the many, many reasons I just love BlogHer.) Mr. Kass spoke about the programs Let’s Move! has launched in the past four years – programs like partnering with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to help kids get more exercise after school, and breakfast in schools – and how these and other programs hare are combatting childhood obesity.
He also referenced the Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the US, 2011-12 study which was recently published in JAMA and showed, “There was a significant decrease in obesity among 2- to 5-year-old children” between 2003-2012. In fact, a 43% drop, which is huge. In real numbers: in 2003-04 nearly 14% of children age 2-5 were obese and that fell to just over 8% in 2011-12.
And while there was not a drop in obesity among the general population or kids in general, the significant decrease in young children is important. As Sabrina Tavernise reported in the New York Times, “children who are overweight or obese at 3 to 5 years old are five times as likely to be overweight or obese as adults.”
Now, no one is really clear exactly why there was a huge decline in obesity among 2-5 year olds. Conjectures include: a decline in calories from sugared beverages, healthier habits from the Let’s Move! initiative, and changes to the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which subsidizes food for low-income women. Indeed, in the past several years, the WIC program has reduced funding for less healthy choices like fruit juice, cheese and eggs – and increased funding for whole fruits and vegetables. Which, um, makes sense to me.
While all this is heartening, I asked Mr. Kass if there was any evidence that these lower obesity rates also included better cholesterol levels in kids. He answered that the study just published did not include cholesterol data, but agreed that the healthier eating and boost in exercise among kids should reduce cholesterol and diabetes along with obesity.
So I did some digging myself. And found some interesting information that points to heartening news for cholesterol in kids as obesity rates decline.
In August 2012, JAMA published Trends in Serum Lipids Among US Youths Aged 6-19 Years, 1988-2010. And this study shows that total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides have fallen among American youth.
Gory details attached below for those who love charts but the topline is this: for kids aged 6-19 there was not much change in Total Cholesterol, LDL (bad) Cholesterol or Triglycerides (which increase with sugar and junk food consumption) between 1998 and 2002. BUT there was a significant decline between 2002 and 2010 in Total Cholesterol, LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides.
Sure, it can’t be tied directly to the Let’s Move! campaign. But clearly something is helping American kids’ cholesterol in the past eight years. And my guess is the focus on healthier foods and more exercise in the Let’s Move! initiative is helping turn the tide.
Thanks to BlogHer for the opportunity to participate in a call with Sam Kass of the White House today – and for the new-found hope that maybe the next generation of kids will have a reduced risk not only of obesity but also of heart disease.
Tables from JAMA:
LDL and Triglycerides:
Endnote: Some may be asking, “Is cholesterol in children really an issue?”
The answer, plain and simple, is yes. In fact, according to the CDC, “High cholesterol can develop in early childhood and adolescence, and your risk increases as your weight increases. In the United States, more than one-fifth (20%) of youth aged 12-19 years have at least one abnormal lipid level.” For more information, see my Answers.com article, “High Cholesterol In Children.”