Between 2005 and 2010, the state of California saw a modest but significant decline in the prevalence of obesity among children in grades 5, 7, and 9, after 30 years of generally rising rates.
There also has been progress in reducing obesity among California preschoolers enrolled in federal health and nutrition programs. A 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that obesity rates among 2- to 4-year-olds from low-income families dropped 2.9 percent, from 17.3 percent in 2008 to 16.8 percent in 2011.
On a statewide basis, California:
- Removed soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages from schools in 2004;
- Has limited the calories, fat, saturated fat, and sugar in snacks sold in schools since 2007;
- Has required calorie labels on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants since 2008, when it became the first state to do so;
- Committed $40 million in annual dedicated state funding for elementary school physical education in 2006;
- Established the California FreshWorks Fund in 2011 as a public-private partnership loan fund created to bring grocery stores, markets that offer fresh produce, and other innovative forms of healthy food retail and distribution to communities that do not have them; and
- In 2012, began requiring school districts to make free, fresh drinking water available in school food service areas.
The decline in the obesity rate among middle school children was documented by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which described a “Patchwork of Progress” in the state. While the progress is uneven, there is a lot of encouraging news coming out of many California communities.
Many communities throughout California have undertaken creative obesity prevention activities:
- In Santa Cruz County, a youth-led healthy restaurant initiative spurred the approval of an ordinance that requires new restaurants and transportation stations of offer and highlight healthy options, which helped the county win an RWJF Culture of Health Prize;
- In Oakland, Oakland FRESH established 22 school-based produce markets to provide low-income families greater access to fresh foods;
- Berkeley is the first and so far only jurisdiction in the nation to implement a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, after the measure won the support of 75 percent of voters in 2014;
- In Baldwin Park, a complete streets policy was adopted in the summer of 2011 and was nationally recognized by the National Complete Streets Coalition as having the strongest implementation component of any policy nationwide; and
- The Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Cities Campaign, a partnership of the League of California Cities and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, helps city officials adopt policies to improve their cities’ physical activity and retail food environments, and HEAL resolutions and policies have been adopted by one third of California’s cities.
California has a reputation as a trendsetter—and these days, the state is in the vanguard on taking innovative actions to make healthy choices easier statewide.