The study chaired by Gary Foster, director of Temple University's Center for Obesity Research and Education, showed a 4 percent decline in childhood obesity among mostly low-income blacks and Hispanics, the highest risk groups. Recent studies indicated rates of overweight and obese children plateaued after rising rapidly since 1980.
"These are the kids you expect least to change," said Foster. He and others speculated that the decline might be greater in the general population.
The decline figure was good news, but not great. The researchers' primary goal was to determine if an intensive, school-based effort to decrease calories and increase physical activity could impact overweight and obese children, a group prone to Type 2 diabetes.
The Temple study spanned 2006-2009. 4,603 sixth grade students in 42 middle schools around the country, including six in Philadelphia, were split into two groups; one participating, one control. When the students were reassessed as eighth graders, the rate of overweight and obese students dropped by nearly the same 4 percent in schools that got the intervention as those that did not. Overweight or obese children in the program schools had 21 percent lower odds of being in that condition by eighth grade compared to the non-programmed schools.
Teams of researchers for the new study developed a program to change nutrition and physical activity in the schools, fired up by classroom curriculum and communications strategies to support changes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe one of every three children born in 2000 and every two children in high-risk minority groups will develop diabetes in their lifestime.