A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports the rate of obesity among 2- through 5-year-olds has dropped 43 percent over the past decade — and the media is using words like “plummet” to describe the drop. But what's the real story? And can parents relax now?

Tuesday night, The New York Times trumpeted, "Obesity Rate for Young Children Plummets 43 Percent in a Decade." Wow! I thought. Wahoo! Go, us! I have to admit, part of me thought, OK, we're doing something right. Maybe I can ease up a bit on my own two toddlers.

But isn't that mindset how we got into this mess in the first place?

From a health perspective, I'm relieved to see parents in America finally got the message: Childhood obesity is an epidemic. But after checking in with two of the most reputable medical institutions in America, my perspective changed. Is the media reporting the shift accurately? If we subscribe to the "plummet" perspective, how do we keep a sense of urgency in light of such astounding success?

Mayo Clinic responds

Dr. Siobhan Pittock is a pediatric endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic Children's Center, and she's concerned that media are paying too much attention to "one small finding" of the study, she told allParenting.

"…[T]here was no decrease in prevalence of obesity in children or adults," Dr. Pittock points out. "When the children in the study were broken out into different age groups, the study shows that the rate of obesity has decreased for just one of those groups (the 2-5-year-olds)."

The big picture remains that we have not yet seen a significant impact on obesity in this country.

"I hope that childhood obesity prevalence is decreasing… however, the big picture remains that we have not yet seen a significant impact on obesity in this country."

Bottom line for Dr. Pittock? "If the publicity this study receives will help keep childhood obesity prominent as a major medical concern, this is good news; however, the study very clearly shows that our work is far from over."

Cleveland Clinic weighs in

Dr. Ellen Rome is head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital and prefers the word "plateau" vs. "plummet" in describing the study results.

"Obesity remains a concern nationwide and worldwide," Dr. Rome emphasizes. "The good news is that with improvements in awareness, food choices and other factors, the rising tide of pediatric obesity has plateaued.

"The bad news is that [obesity] remains at a fairly high rate — with a downstream effect still of significant medical complications in adulthood if even this current high rate persists."

Parents: Stay vigilant!

So, what can parents do to stay focused and intentional? Can we rest on our laurels even a bit?

Continuing to make healthy choices appealing, available and accessible to kids in school and at home remains a challenge in cost and creativity.

"I hope we do not see a relaxing of attitudes and choices," Dr. Rome says. "Without maintained efforts, we will again see those rates rise. Continuing to make healthy choices appealing, available and accessible to kids in school and at home remains a challenge in cost and creativity."

And don't blame the media for getting over-excited. "A plateau is newsworthy," Dr. Rome says. "It means we are making headway on the prior decade's rise. And a decrease of even a few percentage points is awesome, although not 'plummeting.'"

Combination of factors credited

The plateau effect "reflects multifaceted changes in parent attitudes and behaviors, physician awareness and counseling, school food availability, community choices and public policy," Dr. Rome explains. "The days of candy as the classroom reward for good behavior are diminishing, and family dinners should continue to rise."

Keep up the good work!

Dr. Rome shares the following tips for parents to keep in mind in an effort to help all pediatric obesity numbers drop:

  • Remain mindful of healthy eating, including all food groups for children, adolescents and young adults, whose brains and bodies require carbs, protein and fat grams to develop well.
  • Sustain the changes. Have family dinners — nightly.
  • Adapt a healthy lifestyle — and for kids, that includes all food groups in the right balance.
  • Be active as a family.

More about children's nutrition

How food can change your kid's personality
Healthy foods your kids won't hate
Eat real food on a budget

Photo credit: Steve Wisbauer/Photodisc/Getty Images

Topics: