A story in the New York Times today mentions Philadelphia as it declares: "After decades of rising childhood obesity rates, several American cities are reporting their first declines."

The article goes on to assert that "surprising" declines were "noted in a September report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation."

Still "surprising"? "Noted"?

The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a substantial piece about the news on Sept. 7, the day after the foundation published a Web page on Philadelphia, along with a video interview, crediting the original source, a lengthy article in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

"The rate of obese local public-school students dropped nearly 5 percent between 2006 and 2010, when national obesity rates remained unchanged after tripling since the mid-1970s," wrote the Inquirer's public health reporter, Don Sapatkin.

Reported from Philadelphia, today's Times piece does, however, go on to offer updated statistics, in addition to various quotes and anecdotes:

"New data from Philadelphia - from more than 20,000 children in first through sixth grades - show a further 2.5 percent obesity decline from 2011 to 2012," said Gary D. Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University.

Writer Sabrina Tavernise also observes, "Some public health experts say that without broader policy actions like a soda tax, which Philadelphia tried but failed to pass in 2010 and 2011, deeper change will be difficult."

Both the Inquirer and Times articles singled Philadelphia out for praise.

"Philadelphia is a positive deviant, a crucial proof of the concept that communities can reduce obesity rates - and do so in a way that helps to close the disparities gap," physicians James S. Marks and Risa Lavizzo-Mourey wrote in a commentary quoted by the Inquirer.

"The Philadelphia School District, for example, was among the first to remove all sodas and drinks with extra sugar from vending machines, in 2004. Districtwide snack standards were developed in 2006; in 2009-10, the district began offering free breakfasts to all students, discontinued the use of fryers, and switched from milk with 2 percent fat to 1 percent," Sapatakin wrote.

The Times: "Philadelphia, which has the biggest share of residents living in poverty of the nation's 10 largest cities, stands out because its decline was most pronounced among minorities. Obesity among 120,000 public school students measured between 2006 and 2010 declined by 8 percent among black boys and by 7 percent among Hispanic girls, compared with a 0.8 percent decline for white girls and a 6.8 percent decline for white boys."

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.