Courtesy of the CDC
Decreases and increases in obesity prevalence from 2008 to 2011 among low-income preschool-aged children — Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, United States (Courtesy of the CDC)

The Centers for Disease Control reported earlier this week that national obesity rates among low-income children ages 2 to 4 declined slightly from 2008 to 2011, but Connecticut is one of 21 states that saw no improvement.

In 2011, 15.8 percent of 27,561 Connecticut children ages 2 to 4 were considered obese. Connecticut is one of only 10 states where 15 percent or more of that population was obese.

Nationally, the obesity prevalence in children this age ranged between 9.2 and 17.9 percent, according to the CDC study. The study also found that in 2009-10 about one in eight, or 12 percent, of preschoolers between the ages of 2 and 5 in the United States were obese. Those rates are higher for black and Hispanic children.

The Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut was disturbed by the statistics.

The lack of improvement in Connecticut is not for lack of attention to the problem, Judith Meyers, president and CEO of the Children Health and Development Institute of Connecticut, explained Friday.

“Over the past five years there have been many obesity related initiatives including task forces, forums, coalitions, policies, programs, and advocacy efforts that have produced an array of recommendations,” she said. “Ultimately, however, they have not produced very much in the way of results.”

Many times the efforts disappear when the funding runs out for a handful of organizations with an interest in the subject, but there’s also the heavy focus on school-aged children.

“We’re very focused on schools when that’s much too late,” Meyers said, adding that her organization wants to take a more global approach to the issue by looking at all the scientific literature and what evidence-based interventions work.

At the moment the evidence-based approaches to obesity prevention, especially for very young children and their families, is not in any central location. So that’s one of the first things Meyers’ organization is looking to change. It will then look at what child health providers and early educators can do to help parents of newborns.

It’s still difficult, if not impossible, to determine why Connecticut children are obese because there’s a multitude of factors that contribute, but “one thing we know is once a child is overweight then they’re more likely to become overweight as an adult,” Meyers said.

Public Health Department spokesman William Gerrish agreed.

“Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop these serious chronic diseases at earlier ages that lead to premature disability, early death, loss of productivity and decreased quality of life,” he said.

A 2012 study conducted by the Connecticut Public Health Department found that about one third of Connecticut children in kindergarten and third grade were overweight or obese and about one out of every seven are obese.

“The CDC’s recent study highlights the need for more work to address childhood obesity in Connecticut, especially among high-risk groups such as low-income, black and Hispanic children,” Gerrish said.

This year, lawmakers passed legislation creating a 19-member task force to study the effects of obesity on children’s health. The group was to report back to the legislature’s Children’s Committee by Oct. 1. 2014.

The bill also prevents school employees from denying children an opportunity to participate in physical activity as a form of discipline. Further, the opposite is true as school employees are prevented from forcing students to participate in physical activity for disciplinary reasons. By Oct. 1, 2013, local school boards will have to adopt a policy that defines how they will carry out this provision of the law.

From 2001 to 2012, lawmakers debated no less than 121 pieces of legislation that address the root causes of childhood obesity, such as poor diet or lack of physical activity. One of the most notable pieces of legislation came in 2006 when the legislature banned soda and other sugary drinks from school cafeterias.