U.S. Beginning to Break the Link Between Childhood Poverty and Obesity

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Young overweight child learning the values of healthy eating.
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Here's a little something from the "it's not all bad news" file: According to a report released on Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control, there has been a "statistically significant" decline in obesity among lower income children in 18 states over the last eight years. According to CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, "We are going in the right direction for the first time in a generation."

As we've reported in the past, there is a considerable link between low-incomes and childhood obesity. According to a 2012 study by researchers at Rice University, in fact, children living in poverty are 30 percent more likely to be obese. There are numerous reasons for this -- factors like food deserts and corn subsidies make low-quality, highly-caloric food much cheaper, while other concerns, like cuts to food stamps encourage low-income families to get the cheapest calories they can. In the end, the upshot is simple: It costs more money to eat well, which means that people without money are more likely to become obese.

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That's a large part of what makes this news so exciting. Because the data covered low-income children, the group that is hardest hit by childhood obesity, the CDC's report suggests that programs targeting bad eating habits are filtering their way through society to some of the groups that need help -- and education -- the most.

The CDC study noted that the reasons for this decline "could not be readily identified," but suggested that changes in school lunch programs, an increase in breastfeeding, and alignment of the WIC program with government nutritional guidelines could all be factors.

Admittedly, this report doesn't signal a complete reversal of the trend lines: While 18 states improved, another 19 stayed more or less the same and three -- Colorado, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania -- got worse. As for the remaining 10 states, they didn't provide sufficient data to be included in the study.

The childhood obesity epidemic is far from over, and the CDC cautions that "Continued prevention efforts remain necessary to ensure that this downward trend continues." Even so, this is a good reason to celebrate.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.
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