The number of low-income children in Sonoma County who are obese is declining, a drop that may signal a turning point in one of the nation's most troublesome health epidemics.
A new report released Tuesday showed that 15.4 percent of 2- to 4-year-old children in Sonoma County were obese, the lowest level in more than a decade.
The report tracked obesity among low-income children in Sonoma County from 2001 to 2010, the most recent data available. It found that obesity peaked in the three-year period ending in 2007 and has been declining ever since, based on annual measurements averaged over three-year periods.
The trend mirrors a report released Tuesday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which showed the first evidence of a national decline in childhood obesity in years. In 18 states, there were at least slight drops in obesity among low-income preschoolers, health officials said Tuesday.
Local health experts say the county and national findings may signal the war on obesity is finally yielding results.
"It's exciting for all of us. I do think we're starting to see the needle move," said Jeannie Dulberg, community benefit manager for Kaiser Permanente's Marin/Sonoma area.
Health care organizations, like Kaiser, and public health agencies have poured resources into teaching children the importance of healthy eating and regular exercise, attempting to head off an array of health problems that result from obesity.
In Sonoma County, Kaiser has funded an initiative called Healthy Eating and Active Living, or HEAL, that encourages people to eat better and be more physically active as part of daily life.
Several years ago, the Roseland area in southwest Santa Rosa was identified as a "HEAL zone," receiving two grants totalling $2.5 million over six years. The grants end next year.
Dulberg said that preliminary data from these grants also point to a decrease in body mass index, or BMI, in the zone. That data has not been finalized and cannot yet be released, she said.