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Editorial: Obesity campaign shows a little promise

Kids cover ground in the fun run portion

Kids cover ground in the fun run portion of the 2013 Cow Harbor 10K running race in Northport on Sept. 21, 2013. Credit: Judy Cartwright

This is no "Incredible Shrinking Toddler" horror story. Many of the nation's little ones are littler than those in years past. It's actually really good news.

The obesity rate among children 2 to 5 years old has plunged 43 percent over the last decade, according to a major federal study reported Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Only 8.4 percent were obese in 2012, compared with 13.9 percent in 2004.

Unfortunately, the same study found that obesity rates for the rest of us remained essentially flat, with a third of adults falling into that scale-groaning category. But the drop among young kids is a start that bodes well for the future. Obese children are likely to become obese adults at greater risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. That's the road to earlier deaths and an inflated national tab for health care.

Researchers are uncertain about exactly why young children are smaller these days. But there are some good guesses.

They're drinking fewer sugary beverages and consuming fewer calories in general. More are breast-fed, which can lead to lower weight. There's greater awareness. First lady Michelle Obama, for one, has been promoting healthful eating and exercise for children via her high-profile Let's Move campaign. She's cleverly tapped social media to reach kids, for instance to disseminate a video of her dancing with human vegetables Colby Carrot, Brian Broccoli and Erica Eggplant.

And the president and vice president have gotten into the act. They were featured on YouTube jogging around the White House -- although they should have ditched the ties and cap toe shoes for sweats and sneakers.

Researchers may eventually tease out the impact of each individual element of this full-court press. But what's important is that it's working. And if we keep it up, the story will end with a healthier America.