The Skinny: Childhood Obesity Rates Stable?

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Sure, it's one study, but it now has the New York Times imprimatur, and the food industry is bound to trumpet it as a sign that their self-regulatory approach to the obesity epidemic is working.

Since 1976, a Chicago-based research firm has been compiling detailed data on the choices kids make when they visit fast food restaurants. For the first time, the "bad" stuff that kids order is losing share (though not its top perch) to the "good" stuff.

In the U.S., rates of childhood obesity haven't increased -- or increased significantly -- between 1996 and 2006, according to a study by government researchers published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

That suggests that the obesity epidemic is in a period of stasis. Or, perhaps, we're not measuring it correctly. Or, perhaps, a combination of factors, from increased internal efforts by the food industry, the removal of trans-fats from many packaged foods, increased attention paid to school nutrition by states and local municipalities, and changes in the stigma associated with obesity are enough of a bulwark. Or, it's a statistical blip, since the rates of overall obesity continue to rise, as do the costs associated with the social illness.

For the politics of obesity, these tentative findings might give credence to those who believe that a national counter-obesity effort would be less effective an state-based efforts. That said, since anti-obesity programs at the local level cost money, we don't know what effect the economic downturn will have on preventative medicine's share of the cuts that every state is putting into place. A stabilized obesity rate does not mean that the "problem" is solved, of course -- the trick is reduce obesity and the suffering associated with it. And we're a long way from that point.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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