Published December 14, 2012

There was good news on the childhood obesity front this week for the first time in a long time. A report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that the rates of obesity in youngsters in some parts of the United States have dropped by small percentages. The reductions, ranging between 1 percent in California and 13 percent in obesity-plagued Mississippi, show that efforts in recent years to curb what many nutritionists and pediatricians warned was becoming a nationwide epidemic seem to be working. Childhood obesity, which steadily rose in America during the 1990s and peaked in the early 2000s, is blamed for higher rates of chronic illness among children, including high blood pressure, hypertension and diabetes.

The report also highlighted reduced rates among children in New York City and Philadelphia. In the regions that saw lower obesity rates, researchers pointed to programs aimed specifically at addressing the problem — such as a project under way in Philadelphia since 1992 to increase the amount of healthy foods available at corner stores and convenience stores where many families shop, a 2006 change in school nutritional standards set by the Mississippi State Board of Education, and a law passed in 2008 in California requiring cities and towns to support walking and bicycling in their transportation plans.

New Hampshire has always ranked relatively well in childhood obesity studies comparing state rates. According to a state profile complied in October by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12.4 percent of adolescents and 14.2 percent of children between ages 2 and 5 were considered obese. Yet even with lower rates, many Monadnock Region and Cheshire County initiatives have focused on combating obesity among children. This fall, students in several local schools ran part of Keene's Clarence DeMar Marathon after participating in school-sponsored running programs created by Advocates for Healthy Youth — a coalition funded by Cheshire Medical Center/Cheshire Health Foundation — the Vision 2020 Champions Program and the Keene Elm City Rotary Club. For years, several schools throughout the region have focused on improving student nutrition by offering healthier lunches and eliminating vending machines that sell candy, sugary drinks and soda. Other schools, such as Rindge Memorial School and Keene Middle School have added before- or after-school exercise clubs. And Keene State College's Early Sprouts program, which teaches healthy eating habits to preschool students, has expanded to other locations across the state.

There is still a lot of work to do — both locally and nationwide — to make children healthier through maintaining healthy weight levels. In an increasingly sedentary culture, the battle of the bulge is not easily won, and trends over recent decades show that warning people about the dangers of being overweight and hoping they'll make the right choices isn't enough. Instead, proactive programs that offer alternatives to the unhealthy foods and exercise habits many children have grown up with have brought about small but measurable gains.

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