Government proposals to revamp food-nutrition labels and regulate junk-food marketing in schools were accompanied last week by a rare glimpse of good news about the nation's weight woes: A new report showed a 43% drop in the obesity rate for 2-to-5-year-old children in the past decade.
The two new regulatory proposals won't take effect for a while. But they join other measures enacted in recent years by the government and the food industry through self-regulation to reduce the exposure of junk foods and the marketing of it to kids.
How much credit can the regulations take for the apparent improvement in obesity rates? The answer gets a little blurry.
The obesity findings, which were led by a Centers for Disease Control researcher and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that just over 8% of children ages 2 to 5 were obese in 2011-2012, down from nearly 14% in 2003-2004. Despite that drop, however, the study found that obesity rates for the broader population remain unchanged, and rates for women over 60 increased.
Marlene Schwartz, director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, said that industry self-regulation may not have had a huge impact on the overall drop in obesity among young kids, though it does likely reduce exposure to unhealthy brands.
She gave more credit to government-assisted food programs that promote healthy eating among infants and toddlers. She pointed to a 2009 overhaul of a federal supplemental nutrition program called Women, Infants & Children, or WIC.