WASHINGTON — In what appears to be an encouraging sign in the battle to curb obesity, a new report from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows obesity among low-income preschoolers declined slightly in 19 states and US territories from 2008 to 2011. The downward trend follows decades of rising rates that only began to level off between 2003 and 2008.

Still, approximately 1 in 8, or 12 percent, of preschoolers is considered obese, and research shows children who are overweight or obese as preschoolers are five times as likely as normal-weight children to be overweight or obese as adults, the CDC said.

According to the findings, which appear in the August 2013 issue of CDC’s VitalSignsobesity rates decreased slightly in 19 of 43 states and territories, with Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, South Dakota and the US Virgin Islands all experiencing at least a one percentage point decrease in their rate of obesity. Twenty states and Puerto Rico held steady at their current rates, while obesity rates increased slightly in three states (Colorado, Pennsylvania and Tennessee).

For the study, the CDC researchers analyzed measured weight and height for about 12 million children between the ages of 2 and 4 who participate in federally funded maternal- and child-nutrition programs. The data is from the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System.

“Although obesity remains epidemic, the tide has begun to turn for some kids in some states,” said Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the CDC. “While the changes are small, for the first time in a generation they are going in the right direction. Obesity in early childhood increases the risk of serious health problems for life.”

First Lady Michelle Obama applauded the findings and said they reaffirm the belief that government, associations and companies are making a difference in helping children across the country get a healthier start to life.

“We know how essential it is to set our youngest children on a path toward a lifetime of healthy eating and physical activity, and more than 10,000 childcare programs participating in the Let’s Move! Child Care initiative are doing vitally important work on this front,” Obama said. “Yet, while this announcement reflects important progress, we also know that there is tremendous work still to be done to support healthy futures for all our children.”

Janet L. Collins, Ph.D., director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, said many of the states showing declines in obesity did so because programs have been put in place to incorporate healthy eating and active living into children’s lives.

“We must continue to strengthen and expand proven strategies that help our children live healthier lives by avoiding obesity in the first place,” Collins said.