A national health survey released yesterday by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed high and unchanged prevalence of obesity for all age groups in the United States except for children between the ages of two and five, among whom obesity rates dropped by 43% throughout the past decade. Dr. Cynthia Ogden, lead author of the report, was excited to reported that “this is the first time we’ve seen any indication of any significant decrease in any group.” Also, Public Health Seattle/King County, Washington recently reported in the CDC journal MMWR a significant decline in obesity in school age children in association with Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) school-based programming to increase physical activity and improve nutrition.
In 2009, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District received approximately $16 million in CPPW funding similar to Seattle’s, but took a more community-wide approach, with programs and environmental improvements to promote physical activity and good nutrition like Siclovia, Fitness in the Parks, SPARKS, community gardens, ride-to-own bicycle give-away, and making San Antonio more apt for walking. Our 2010-2012 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) surveys showed a 19% decline in obesity in adults, from 35.1% to 28.5%. These results, along with Seattle’s, demonstrate that well thought out and executed, community anti-obesity efforts can succeed. However, it appears that San Antonio is the first community to demonstrate success in its adult population. Deeper analysis of BRFSS data suggests the primary reason why obesity rates are declining in San Antonio is falling soda consumption.
Bexar County residents who responded to the BRFSS survey that they drink “regular soda or pop” every day declined between 2010 and 2012 from 70.7% to 63.9%, paralleling the decline in obesity. No other measures of nutrition or physical activity derived from the BRFSS survey correlated with the obesity decline. Of special interest is that the greatest reductions in soda drinking were among women.
In that women make dietary decisions not only for themselves but also for their families, their beverage choices likely benefited the entire community. If San Antonio continues to support active living and good nutrition, and women continue to remove soda from their daily diets, choosing healthy alternatives like tap water and milk instead, obesity, diabetes, dental carries and other long term epidemics will likely recede.