Recently collected data shows that the national childhood obesity epidemic could be stabilizing, thanks to the substitution of fruits and vegetables for sweets, increased physical activity, and less time spent watching TV. Researchers from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Maryland say that tailoring health advice to meet each teen’s gender could the be most effective solution for curbing obesity.

Co-authors Ronald Iannotti and Jing Wang used a national representative sample of 35,000 adolescents between the ages of 11 and 16 taken in 2001, 2005, and 2009. Children were asked about their diet, amount of physical activity, and body mass index (BMI), which was calculated using their height and weight.

Although the participants failed to reach the recommended 60-plus minutes of daily physical activity for seven days a week, a significant increase in exercise was still noticed over the course of the study. Participants went from 4.33 days of exercise in 2001 to 4.53 days in 2009. While younger boys recorded more physical activity than younger girls, they also spent more time playing video games.

The research team also determined that children increased the number of days in the week that they ate breakfast from 2.98 in 2001 to 3.25 in 2009. What's more, they went from eating fruits and vegetables a mere two or four days a week to five days a week. Consumption of sugar-packed sodas declined from five drinks a day to four drinks a day. Girls involved with this study ate more fruits and vegetables than boys, but they also ate more candy and less breakfast.

While the average BMI increased over the course of the study, a decline from 62.33 to 62.07 between 2005 and 2009 points to obesity leveling off. Iannotti said that this “pattern is very encouraging.”

"Over the previous decades, the pattern had been that kids were getting less physical activity, and it's been very hard to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption," Iannotti explained. "We've got a long way to go, but the good news is that those are increasing."

Source: Iannotti R, Wang J. Trends in Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, Diet, and BMI Among US. Pediatrics. 2013.