RWJF awards grants to help reverse childhood obesity epidemic

Jan. 16, 2013, The Wall Street Journal

Six national associations have received a total of $1.8 million in grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to help communities increase children’s access to affordable healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity.

The grants were awarded through Leadership for Healthy Communities, an RWJF national program that assists state and local leaders in their efforts to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic. The associations were selected because their members are uniquely positioned to work across multiple levels of government and across intra-governmental agencies and departments to eliminate barriers to healthy eating and active living in schools and communities.

Today, more than 23.5 million children and adolescents in the United States–nearly one in three young people–are either obese or overweight, putting them at higher risk for serious, even life-threatening health problems. However, recent data shows that states and cities that have taken a comprehensive policy approach to preventing obesity are beginning to see declines in obesity rates among children.

“Policy changes that make it easier for kids and families to eat healthier foods and be active are helping to improve the health of our nation’s children, families and communities,” said Maya Rockeymoore, director of Leadership for Healthy Communities. “We are proud to work with policy maker associations whose creativity and commitment are helping to build national momentum around this issue.”

Specifically, the six organizations will focus on one or more of the following priorities:

  • Improving the nutritional quality of snack foods and beverages in schools
  • Reducing consumption of sugary beverages
  • Protecting children from unhealthy food and beverage marketing
  • Increasing access to affordable healthy foods
  • Increasing access to parks, playgrounds, walking paths, bike lanes and other opportunities to be physically active
  • Helping schools and youth-serving programs increase children’s [access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity]

The organizations that will be working with Leadership for Healthy Communities on this initiative include the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), Local Government Commission (LGC), National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), and Women in Government (WIG).

Five of the organizations, with the exception of WIG, previously have worked with Leadership for Healthy Communities and have played a major role in educating communities and their leaders on approaches that increase access to affordable, healthy food and opportunities for physical activity. For example, organizations have accomplished the following.

  • AASA brought together school district and city leaders in Jackson, Tenn., to create a wellness policy that encouraged improved pedestrian access to schools and the improvement of city streets to promote exercise.
  • NACCHO worked with the Ashland-Boyd County Health Department in Kentucky and multiple local partners and coalitions to implement farm fresh local foods initiatives and enable the acceptance of Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at farmers’ markets.
  • NCSL provided technical assistance to policy-makers working to improve school environments. In Massachusetts and North Carolina, the organization provided counsel on how to improve school nutrition and nutrition education. NCSL also has helped to implement joint use agreements in Tennessee, and increase access to farmers’ markets and farm-to-school programs in Texas and Oregon.
  • LGC worked with decision makers in Yuba County, Calif., to eliminate the sale of junk food and soda in schools, introduce salad bars and fresh fruit in school cafeterias, and guide the planning and construction of new sidewalks and bike lanes.
  • USCM developed The Mayors’ Guide to Fighting Childhood Obesity, which includes valuable tools and resources for mayors and key staff who want to advance healthy eating and active living policies. In response to a recent announcement regarding obesity-prevention grants, more than 55 mayors indicated that they are now focusing their work on access to healthy foods in their cities as a result of USCM’s earlier work.

“Policy-makers want to help children and families lead healthier lives,” said Dwayne C. Proctor, director of RWJF’s childhood obesity team. “Leadership for Healthy Communities harnesses that energy by providing information and resources to help state and local leaders understand which approaches have the greatest potential for success.”

Leadership for Healthy Communities is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation designed to support local and state government leaders nationwide in their efforts to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic through public policies that promote active living, healthy eating and access to healthy foods. For more information, visit www.leadershipforhealthycommunities.org.

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