CDC Reports Mixed Progress in Fighting Obesity

December 8, 2016

While Frieden reported progress in areas like reducing cigarette smoking, the challenge of reducing obesity remains stubborn.

When CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, set a series of public health goals early in his tenure, he aimed high. Calling them “winnable battles,” Frieden set aggressive benchmarks for fighting food poisoning, infections, and obesity that he wanted to achieve before the end of 2015.

In taking stock this week, Frieden was candid: when it comes to obesity, including obesity among the youngest children, America might not be losing, but it’s not winning, either.

“The Winnable Battles approach is all about accountability, setting ambitious goals, working with a broad group of partners, and holding ourselves to the high standard of rapid health improvement,” Frieden said. “The past 6 years show that with focus and commitment, we can win battles against the most important health problems Americans face every day.”

Frieden launched “Winnable Battles” when long-term gains in areas like reducing the number of Americans who were smoking had been stalling. Some areas improved—adult cigarette smoking dropped 27% from 2009 to 2015 and youth cigarette smoking plummeted 45% over that same period.

But other areas showed less progress, and the battle against obesity remains a stubborn one.

A CDC report shows, in the area of nutrition, physical activity, and obesity, the uneven nature of progress, which came amid the historic passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—a law that took aim against chronic disease and its fallout on the healthcare system. With the president-elect promising to wipe away the ACA, it is unclear what will come of the limited progress made in reversing generations of neglect in some populations that suffer outsized rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and associated complications.

The CDC report stated the following:

· The CDC set a goal for childhood obesity (rates among those aged 2 to 19 years) to not exceed 15.4% by 2015. The prevalence of obesity has remained around 17% and affects about 12.7 million individuals. One sign of progress: the rate among children aged 2 to 5 years decreased from 13.9% in 2003-2004 to 8.4% in 2013-2014.

· A major public health goal was increasing the share of children who were breastfed, as this is associated with lower rates of childhood obesity. While rates increased, they did not reach the target of 58.9% by 2015; however, rates exceeded the original target of 50% by 3.6%.

· More adults have met the aerobic "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans." The share of adults meeting these guidelines has increased from 43.5% in 2008 to 49.8% in 2015. The US Surgeon General promoted a campaign to get all Americans to walk about 22 minutes per day in 2015.

· Between 2010 and 2015, 26 states updated their physical activity requirements for children in child care settings.

· Healthy eating has been a major focus of the Obama administration. Between 2010 and 2015, 26 states made 455 specific improvements to nutrition standards and state licensing regulations for settings that provide child care to children ages 0 to 5 years.

· As of July 2016, more than 19,800 early children education providers pledged to follow best practices in providing healthy food and drinks to kids and in providing support services for breast-feeding mothers.