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ATLANTA (AP) - Health officials say they have the first evidence of a U.S. decline in childhood obesity.

A government report released Tuesday found at least slight declines in obesity rates for low-income preschoolers in 18 states. Rates went up in three states. The report is based on the heights and weights of nearly 12 million low-income children in 40 states.

Previous national statistics show obesity rates have been rising for decades and recently were essentially flat, although some places have reported improvements, like Philadelphia and New York City and the state of Mississippi. But the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows signs of a wider-ranging improvement.

"Now, for the first time, we're seeing a significant decrease in childhood obesity" nationally, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director.

Still, 1 in 8 preschoolers are obese in the United States, and it's even more common in black and Hispanic children. Overweight or obese preschoolers are five times more likely than other children to be heavy adults, which means greater risks of high cholesterol, high blood sugar, asthma and even mental health problems.

The report didn't answer why some states improved while most others held steady. Experts credit policies that promote breast-feeding and healthier eating.

It's harder to get national data on preschoolers of more affluent families, but experts note that low-income kids tend to be heavier.

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CDC report: http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns

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