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Fewer N.M. preschoolers are overweight

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Study: Obesity rate dropped from 12% in 2008-9 to 11.3% in 2011

After years of bad news that children are growing dangerously fat, health officials cheered a first hopeful sign that obesity rates have dipped slightly for low-income preschoolers in New Mexico and 17 other states.

The obesity rate among New Mexico children ages 2-4 dropped for two consecutive years to 11.3 percent in 2011, down slightly from 12 percent in 2008 and 2009, according to a new federal study.

“This is the first time that government research has shown any kind of decrease in obesity rates in children, and in particular, low-income children,” New Mexico Health Secretary Retta Ward said.

Five states experienced declines of at least 1 percent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The study measured the heights and weights of about 30,000 New Mexico children and 12 million nationally enrolled in the federal Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food vouchers and other services for low-income families.

Child obesity rates remain high. In New Mexico, obesity afflicts about one child in nine ages 2-4.

A New Mexico Department of Health report last year found that 15 percent of kindergartners and 22 percent of third graders are obese.

Obesity is a major health problem in the United States, where more than two-thirds of U.S. adults are considered overweight or obese.

“It doesn’t mean that the work is done, but it does mean that some of the things we are doing are having an impact, and that’s very encouraging,” Ward said.

Federal officials updated the WIC food package in 2009 to allow families to use their WIC benefits to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods in addition to staples.

The new CDC report is an early indication that the changes to the WIC food package are having the intended effect, said Sarah Flores-Sievers, New Mexico’s WIC director.

The program provides food for an estimated 36 percent of New Mexico preschool children.

The expanded food package, the first change to the WIC package in 35 years, also allows families to buy tofu, soy milk, baby food and whole grain products.

WIC participants are also required to take a class every six months that offers information about nutrition, healthy cooking and physical activities for families, Flores-Sievers said.

Other factors cited by the CDC that may have contributed to the declines include a popular movement toward breastfeeding, which the agency recommends as a way of reducing a child’s risk of becoming overweight or obese.

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