The biggest declines were in Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey and South Dakota. Each saw their obesity numbers fall at least 1 percentage point.
Despite the improvements, the numbers are still disappointing. Hawaii was the best, with about 9 percent of low-income preschoolers estimated to be obese in 2011. California was worst, at nearly 17 percent.
Ten states were not included; some had changed how they track height and weight. One of the missing states is Texas, which has one of the largest populations of low-income children and is known to have a significant problem with childhood obesity.
Of the remaining 40 states, 18 showed at least slight improvement and 19 had no significant change. Three — Colorado, Pennsylvania and Tennessee — increased.
The last CDC study to look at childhood obesity data this way found very different results. From 2003 to 2008, significant declines in preschooler obesity were seen in only nine states and increases were seen in 24 states.
"We're seeing great progress," said the CDC's Ashleigh May, lead author of the new study.
The report didn't answer why some states improved while most others held steady, and Davis said there's a pressing need to do more research and understand how some states achieved success.
CDC officials said a change in WIC policies probably played a major role. The changes — instituted in 2009 — eliminated juice from infant food packages, provided less saturated fat, and made it easier to buy fruits and vegetables.
Breast-feeding rates have been increasing, and kid's raised on mother's milk tend to have lower obesity rates, experts said.
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