(CN) – Obesity in very young children who receive government food aid is on the decline, according to a study released Tuesday.
The study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention involves children aged two to five from low-income households, specifically those registered in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program to receive food vouchers and other services.
Researchers found obesity rates for these children declined to 14% in 2016, down from 16% in 2010. Children’s weight and height were measured during WIC certification or registration visits, according to the report.
About 1 in 5 children received WIC assistance in 2016 across 50 states, the District of Columbia and 5 U.S. territories. WIC helps low-income pregnant, breastfeeding or postpartum women, along with children up to age five who may be at nutritional risk.
While there was a significant decrease in obesity overall, the CDC found the greatest drop for boys and Asian children.
Former CDC obesity expert Dr. William Dietz attributes the decline to changes in the WIC package. WIC updated its package in 2014 to include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
“The findings are encouraging, because they indicate that the effects of changes in the WIC package have continued to reduce the prevalence of obesity in children enrolled in WIC,” said Dietz.
Dr. Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said the results of the study are heartening because lower-income children are at a higher risk of obesity, but noted changes to the WIC program may not be the only factor for the decrease.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to expect to pinpoint one specific reason for these findings,” said Schwartz. “Instead, I think these findings reflect an accumulation of environmental and policy changes that support healthier diets for small children.”
A previous CDC study found obesity in children ages two to five who were not enrolled in the WIC program increased to about 14% in 2016 from 8% in 2014.
Dr. Heidi Blanck, Chief of Obesity Prevention at CDC said the figures are encouraging but more must be done to combat obesity in children.
“Childhood obesity is a serious problem and affects 13.7 million U.S. children. We are encouraged by these modest declines in obesity among low-income children enrolled in WIC, but the rates of child and adolescent obesity remains high overall (19%) and for young children aged 2-4 enrolled in WIC (14%),” Blanck said in a statement. “Because of the short and long-term health risks associated with obesity, it is important to continue to support obesity prevention efforts in our communities across the nation.”
Parents should include a lot of fruits and vegetables in their children’s diets, cut back on sugar-sweetened beverages and keep children active to prevent obesity, the CDC said.
The report was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.