Don't applaud just yet (or, worse, celebrate the news with a piece of chocolate cake), but a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows a slight decrease in the obesity rate for U.S. children. That's after a a tripling of the rate from 1980 to today. The current rate is 17 percent, around 12.5 million kids.
Researchers don't know the exact reasons for the decline, which has been observed, to some degree or other, in various places around the nation and in various groups: whites, blacks, Hispanics, boys and girls. But it appears to be most pronounced in cities that have made a commitment to fighting this epidemic, such as Philadelphia, which saw childhood obesity rates drop 5 percent between 2006 and 2011.
The cause of obesity , which greatly increases the risk of illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease and early death, is no mystery. It is calories -- too many taken in and not enough burned off. Philadelphia has a comprehensive nutrition program that includes educating kids, parents and teachers about healthy eating, and having healthier foods and drinks in the cafeteria and vending machines. No candy can be purchased from vending machines during school hours.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is putting its money where its research is. Last month it announced that it will provide $8 million in initial funding for an ambitious collaboration with the American Heart Association aimed at changing local, state and federal policies to get kids -- especially in poor and minority communities, where the problem is greatest -- to eat healthier foods and be more active.
There's a long way to go, but we at least now appear headed in the right direction.