08/06/2013 03:24 pm ET Updated Oct 06, 2013

CDC Reports Progress on Childhood Obesity Among Our Youngest Citizens

As we prepare to observe National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, we have some encouraging news to report. For the first time in decades, we are starting to see a decline in obesity rates among our youngest citizens. As part of its Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed the height and weight of nearly 12 million children between the ages of two and four, who participate in federally funded maternal- and child-nutrition programs. The CDC reports that obesity rates have declined for these low-income preschoolers in 19 of 43 states.

Progress in promoting healthy weight is critically important for our children and the future health of our nation. We know that overweight preschoolers are five times as likely as their normal-weight counterparts to grow up to be overweight or obese adults. And obese adults are at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some cancers and other conditions. So giving our children a strong foundation in their youngest years provides hope for a healthy start for life.

Many of the states with declines have implemented strategies to help parents and families "to make the healthy choice the easy choice" by increasing access to healthy, affordable foods, and safe, convenient places to be physically active.

Despite the recent progress, we still have a long way to go. Roughly one in eight preschoolers in this country is obese. We must continue to strengthen and expand proven strategies that actually work to prevent obesity. To help meet this goal, the federal government: (1) funds research and surveillance systems to identify the most effective strategies to prevent and treat obesity; (2) funds states and communities to implement programs that support healthy eating and physical activity; and (3) provides direct support to parents and caregivers to support healthy eating through the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, as well as the Child and Adult Care Feeding program. Additionally, First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative provides helpful tips and step-by-step strategies for early care and education providers to promote breastfeeding, improve nutrition, increase physical activity and reduce screen time for young children.

We all can assure that our children have an opportunity for a healthy, productive life. State and local officials can increase access to healthy, affordable foods and safe, free drinking water. Communities can make sure residents have access to safe parks and playgrounds. Doctors and nurses can monitor children's weight and counsel parents on nutrition and physical fitness. And parents can provide their children healthy foods and encourage physical activity.

By making "the healthy choice the easy choice" for more Americans, we can build on progress and continue the decline in obesity rates for many years to come.