Chubby babies and toddlers at risk for later obesity are on the decline in a government food program serving millions of kids, a glimmer of good news in the nation's fight to slim down. The trend was found in a study, published Tuesday in Pediatrics, on children up to age 3 enrolled in the WIC nutrition assistance program for low-income women and children, reports the AP. Half of all US infants up to 12 months old are enrolled in the program. The portion of youngsters at risk for obesity fell during the study, from almost 15% in 2010 to 12% overall in 2014, say CDC researchers. The rate declined in all ages studied. It was lowest—about 8% in 2014 —for the youngest infants, aged 3 to 5 months, versus almost 15% among toddlers.
The results were unexpected, given rising rates earlier in the decade, says lead author David Freedman. "People are thrilled," he says. Previous CDC data showed a similar decline in all US youngsters aged 2 to 5 years old, from about 14% in 2004 to 9% in 2014, coinciding with national campaigns targeting childhood obesity. Obesity rates tend to be higher in children from low-income families including WIC participants. Freedman says reasons are uncertain for the decline in heavy WIC babies, but it came amid changes designed to improve nutrition and health in WIC food packages, including more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Also, breastfeeding among participating women increased in 2009, and that can protect against obesity.