Chicago The percentage of American children who are overweight or obese appears to have leveled off after a 25-year increase, according to new figures that offer a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dismal battle.
"That is a first encouraging finding in what has been unremittingly bad news," said Dr. David Ludwig, director of an obesity clinic at Children's Hospital Boston. "But it's too soon to know if this really means we're beginning to make meaningful inroads into this epidemic. It may simply be a statistical fluke."
In 2003-04 and 2005-06, roughly 32 percent of children were overweight or obese, and 16 percent were obese, according to a study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those levels held steady after rising without interruption since 1980.
"Maybe there is some reason for a little bit of optimism," said CDC researcher Cynthia Ogden, the study's lead author.
Some experts said that if the leveling-off is real, it could be because more schools and parents are emphasizing better eating habits and more exercise. Even so, they and Ogden stressed that it would be premature to celebrate.
"Without a substantial decline in prevalence, the full impact of the childhood epidemic will continue to mount in coming years," Ludwig said. That is because it can take many years for obesity-related complications to translate into life-threatening events, including heart attacks and kidney failure.
He co-wrote an editorial accompanying the study in today's Journal of the American Medical Association. He had no role in the research.