Obesity among children aged 2 to 5 years old declined by 43 percent from 2003 to 2012, but the obesity rate increased in women over 60, according to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Washington, DC.

The data was published in the Feb. 26 issue of the "Journal of the American Medical Association." Obesity prevalence for children aged 2 to 5 years old declined from nearly 14 percent in 2003-2004 to just more than 8 percent in 2011-2012. Although the JAMA study does not specifically compare 2009-2010 with 2011-2012, NHANES data shows a decline in 2- to 5-year-olds during that time period, from more than 12 percent in 2009-2010 to more than 8 percent in 2011-2012.

"We continue to see signs that, for some children in this country, the scales are tipping," CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a press release from the CDC.

Previous CDC data found a significant decline in obesity prevalence among low-income children aged 2 to 4 years old participating in federal nutrition programs, Frieden added. Some communities with obesity prevention programs also have shown declines in obesity rates. Those communities include Anchorage, AK; Philadelphia; New York City and King County, WA.

"This confirms that at least for kids, we can turn the tide and begin to reverse the obesity epidemic," Frieden said.

Although the reasons for the decline in obesity among 2- to 5-year-olds are not clear, many child care centers have started to improve their nutrition and physical activity standards during the past few years, according to the CDC. In addition, CDC data show decreases in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among youth in recent years. Another possible factor might be the improvement in breastfeeding rates in the United States, which is beneficial to staving off obesity in breastfed children, according to the CDC. 

Despite the declines in this age group, when the data for all children is combined, the latest NHANES obesity data indicates no significant changes in obesity prevalence among 2- to 19-year-olds or adults in the United States between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012.

Not all the news was positive. The study showed that for women aged 60 and older, obesity had increased from 31.5 percent in 2003-2004 to 38.1 percent in 2011-2012.

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which works to improve the health of Americans, released a statement about the importance of the findings.

In relation to the improvement in obesity numbers for the very young, the statement said: "After decades of seemingly endless bad news about obesity, our collective efforts over the last several years show that we as a nation are finally moving in the right direction. Of course, we can't stop now. We must redouble our efforts and continue to focus on those children and families most at risk for obesity. Through comprehensive efforts like the ones we applaud today, we can truly build a culture of health for all of America's children."