(May 30, 11:14 a.m.) After two decades of climbing, the childhood obesity rate in the U.S. seems to have leveled off.

A co-author of the study that made those findings, however, stressed that the war on childhood obesity is far from over.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the childhood obesity rate tripled, rising from about 5% to about 16%, said Cynthia Ogden, epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and co-author of the study, which appeared in the May 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But for the past eight years, she said, CDC data shows that the rate has held steady at about 16%.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but at least we have a glimmer of something good,” Ogden said.

She would not speculate on the reasons for the leveling out, or on whether the incidence of childhood obesity will stay where it is, rise or decline in the next several years.

But Ogden did say her findings are far from a declaration of victory.

“I don’t think we should become complacent,” she said. “The prevalence of childhood obesity is still too high.”

Amy Philpott, vice president of marketing and industry relations for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said the report is cause for cautious optimism.

But she agreed with Ogden that there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“While we certainly hope that the national rate of childhood obesity is no longer increasing, even the CDC cautions that it may be too soon to tell if this is a lasting trend,” she said. “Even if the increase is leveling off, the overall childhood obesity rate is still too high, and we must all continue to be vigilant about making healthy food choices available to children in schools, at home and in restaurants.”

One step in the right direction, Philpott said, is the recently passed farm bill, which funds an expansion of the school snack program. The snack program will increase the number of fresh fruit and vegetable offerings in schools.

Under the new farm bill, all 50 states qualify for the program. About $40 million will be allocated for the program on Oct. 1; $65 million on July 1, 2009; $101 million on July 1, 2010; and $150 million on July 1, 2011, and July 1, 2012.