It's something to feel a little better about.

But only a little.

That's the take-away message from a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It suggests that the three-decade upswing in obesity among U.S. children may be leveling off.

Good news. Better, at least, than another steady increase. The obesity and overweight epidemic - and yes, it is an epidemic - among children is one of the biggest health problems in the United States and around the world.

Starting in the 1970s, experts began to notice that more and more children were either overweight or truly obese. The trend kept expanding in the 1980s and 1990s - even though word was out about the need for healthier diets and more exercise. Now, the CDC says, after surveying data from 1999 to 2006, the share of kids who are too heavy has stayed about stable since 1999.

But that proportion is huge: 32 percent of kids are overweight or obese. In the 1970s, by today's standards, 10 percent of children were overweight and 5 percent obese. As of 2008, that figure has more than doubled.

And not just among children. About one third of U.S. adults are obese (not just overweight).

Obesity is involved in about 400,000 deaths a year, according to a 2004 CDC report - up there with smoking-related deaths. As usual, the stats show racial disparities, with higher obesity rates among minority children.

Adults are responsible for themselves, but children need adult guidance. If children establish bad eating habits and become overweight, it too often starts a relentless path toward adult obesity, higher risks of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and some cancers.

It's hard to change these ways once set. Doubly awful, then, that one-third are already there.

But the report at least suggests some efforts have begun to pay off. Families are working to change diets, activities and house cultures to encourage better eating and more exercise. Schools are chucking soda and junk-food machines and instituting healthier cafeteria choices, and some (not enough) are upping exercise requirements.

Is it finally starting to work? That would be easier to believe if the trend started going down.

Everyone needs to keep up the work. End denial. Enough defeatist talk about how "nothing really works": Some kinds of obesity do have genetic bases, but for most people, diet and exercise are fine ways to moderate body mass.

When the flat line starts sloping down, year after year, then and only then can this glimmer of hope be anything but slim.