Childhood Obesity Rates Drop in 18 States and One U.S. Territory

    • August 6, 2013

A new report on obesity among preschool children enrolled in federal health and nutrition programs shows the nation is making important progress to reverse the epidemic.

Among the places with declines, the U.S. Virgin Islands had the greatest decrease, from 13.6 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2011, and rates in Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, and South Dakota dropped by at least one percentage point during that period. Rates remained stable in 20 states and Puerto Rico and increased in only three states—Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.  

The authors of the report from the Centers for Disease Contrl and Prevention (CDC) cite several factors that may have helped contribute to the declines: 

  • updates to the food package for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children;
  • new nutrition and physical activity standards for early child care programs; and 
  • increased support for breastfeeding mothers.


A culture of health

Another Sign of Progress

In a post on the Foundation's Culture of Health blog, RWJF senior vice president James S. Marks shares his take on what these new declines mean for the national movement:

"We will reverse the childhood obesity epidemic only if leaders in all sectors help children and families make healthy choices in the places where they live, learn, work, and play. That means our schools and childcare centers, neighborhoods, workplaces, places of worship, grocery stores, restaurants, and more."

Read the full post to learn more about what strategies may be having an impact

Healthier Foods for Lower-Income Families

A woman shops for fresh produce in a grocery store.

Changing WIC Changes What Children Eat

New York was the first state to roll out the updated food package for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). It includes more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as low-fat or nonfat milk. A study supported by RWJF found a strong connection between those changes and improvements in participants’ dietary behaviors, screen time, and weight.

Read more
Two small girls sitting in supermarket cart, each holding an orange from the produce section.

Stores Stock Healthier Foods

This study examined Philadelphia stores participating in the WIC program. Researchers found that, following changes to the WIC food package, participating stores began carrying more fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products, and other healthy foods.

Read more
A woman shops for vegetables at a grocery store.

WIC Participation May Prevent Obesity

A 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine, Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policies, provides a range of recommendations for preventing obesity among young children. One of the key recommendations was to increase participation in the WIC program.

Read more

Mapping the Movement

A boy runs through the woods.
See More Signs of Progress

Voices for healthy kids event

Leading the Movement

In addition to these new data from the CDC, cities, counties and states that have taken a comprehensive approach to addressing childhood obesity are beginning to measure their own declines. Voices for Healthy Kids, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and American Heart Association, hosted an event in July with leaders from many of these communities, highlighting the strategies at work.

See a recap of the event