We’ve encouraged. We’ve nagged. We’ve cautioned. We’ve pleaded. Now it’s time for a bit of optimism and cheer.

After a 25-year increase, the number of children who are obese or overweight may be leveling off, according to a new report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Results of the study released Tuesday show that in 2003-04 and 2005-06, nearly 32 percent of American children were overweight but not obese, 16 percent were obese and 11 percent were extremely obese.

While the numbers remain formidable, there is one key point to note: There was no jump in the obesity rate, which has been climbing steadily since 1980.

“That is a first encouraging finding in what has been unremittingly bad news,” Dr. David Ludwig, director of an obesity clinic at Children’s Hospital Boston, said in an Associated Press report. “But it’s too soon to know if this really means we’re beginning to make meaningful inroads into this epidemic. It may simply be a statistical fluke.”

We certainly hope it’s not a glitch.

West Virginia has been significantly impacted by the obesity epidemic, continually ranking as among the top states in the nation for the health problem.

Mountain State children are also afflicted, with 30,000 of the state’s fifth graders screened for a coronary artery risk project from 1999 to 2005 found to be overweight or obese, guidelines for the Institute of Medicine show.

Additionally, previous CDC reports showed 28 percent of low-income children between the age of 2 and 5 are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, and 29 percent of West Virginia high school students are overweight or are at risk of becoming overweight.

Due to the considerable health risks associated with obesity, we can not take this problem lightly. And — we hope — people are beginning to realize the importance of regular exercise and healthy eating habits.

Because it may take years for obesity-related health problems to become life-threatening, Ludwig believes the problem will continue to escalate. “Without a substantial decline in prevalence, the full impact of the childhood epidemic will continue to mount in coming years,” he said.

While we, too, worry about what the future holds, we believe the new report may show that an emphasis on health and fitness — among families, communities and the government — can pay off in the end.

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