But 1 in 5 New Mexico third-graders remained obese in 2013, according to a New Mexico Department of Health survey of 7,731 students at 59 public elementary schools.
Health officials also remain concerned that too many students are packing on weight between kindergarten and third grade.
Overall, obesity rates are moving in the right direction. The percentage of obese third-grade students declined to 19.9 percent in 2013, down from 22.6 percent in 2010 – a 12 percent decline in four years, the survey found.
“It is great news,” said Rita Condon, program manager for Healthy Kids New Mexico, a state Department of Health program intended to promote healthy eating and exercise habits in kids.
The decline signals a growing awareness among New Mexicans about the long-range health risks of obesity in children, she said.
“You don’t get a 12 percent decrease in third-grade obesity out of nowhere,” Condon said.
School meal programs now offer more fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods, and some elementary schools offer salad bars or pre-made salads, Condon said.
Healthy Kids New Mexico is a federally funded program launched in 2011 that encourages kids to eat healthy foods and get more physical activity before, during and after school, she said. The program now operates in nine counties and four tribal areas.
“The things we can do around obesity prevention are healthy eating and physical activity and this is one area where I feel we have really engaged our whole state in prevention efforts,” she said.
Among Native American third-graders, the group with the highest prevalence, obesity declined from 37 percent in 2010 to 30 percent in 2013.
The percentage of all third-graders considered overweight or obese declined from 38.7 percent in 2010 to 34.7 percent in 2013, the survey found.
But the survey found no comparable improvement in obesity rates among kindergarten students. About 14 percent of New Mexico kindergartners were obese in 2013 – a rate essentially unchanged from 2010.
“Fourteen percent of kindergartners are walking through the door obese,” Condon said, suggesting the state needs to do more to target preschool children.