A recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a positive outcome in the battle against childhood obesity. The number of children and toddlers who are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have shown a downward trend in obesity prevalence from 2010 to 2016. In fact, the prevalence went from 15.9% in 2010 to 13.9% in 2016.
The sample used by the researchers included 12,403,629 children who were 2 to 4 years old and enrolled in WIC program in the 50 states, District of Columbia, and 5 US territories in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016. Between 2010 and 2016, there was a statistically significant decrease in the prevalence of obesity in 41 of the 56 WIC state or territory agencies.
Obesity prevalence decreased by >3 percentage points in 7 agencies: Guam, New Jersey, New Mexico, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Utah, and Virginia. Puerto Rico saw the largest decrease with the adjusted prevalence of obesity going down by 8.2 percentage points. Only 3 agencies saw an increase in obesity prevalence: 0.5 percentage points in Alabama, 0.6 percentage points in North Carolina, and 2.2 percentage points in West Virginia. Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Vermont, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands saw no difference in their adjusted obesity prevalence.
One of the reasons for this change could be the revision of WIC food packages in 2009. The revisions provided breastfeeding support, allowed agencies to have greater flexibility in accommodating cultural food preferences, promoting more healthful choices like fruits and vegetables, and covering a greater range of healthful food options.
Limitations for the study also existed. One of the main limitations was that 15% fewer children were enrolled in WIC in 2016 than in 2010. Second, some states have altered their data reporting system. Additionally, children who aren’t enrolled in WIC could be different than those who are and the results can’t be applied to children from other income levels.
Researchers were careful to note that the prevalence of obesity was still high for children in WIC and that the path to eliminating childhood obesity would need many approaches. Those approaches should include encouraging neighborhoods to be friendly to walking and biking as well as changing nutrition standards for food served in early care and education.