The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded a team at Rutgers to follow a group of children for five years to determine the effectiveness of changes in the physical activity and the food environment on lowering rates of childhood obesity in five of New Jersey’s poorest cities. The results from these studies will help policy makers identify what strategies are most effective at reversing the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic.
The NIH research study will assess the impact of changes being implemented to combat childhood obesity by organizations in Newark, Camden, New Brunswick, Vineland, and Trenton. The cities currently have dozens of initiatives and programs designed to reverse childhood obesity. For example, several cities are working with schools to improve the nutritional quality of foods served and the opportunities for physical activities. Others are improving lighting and safety in parks so families will use them for exercise. And efforts are being made to encourage corner stores to sell fruits and vegetables so children have an alternative to buying candy and chips.
The $3 million grant builds on previous work in 2009 and 2010, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), which surveyed children’s nutrition, physical activity, and weight status in the cities.
The RWJF grant also had researchers “conduct baseline policy and environmental audits of on the ground conditions in those cities, for all recreation facilities and food outlets,” said Laura Leviton, RWJF senior researcher and NCCOR member. “All this information was intended to be useful to the communities involved, for their planning and action steps.”
As a result of the studies funded by RWJF, much is already known about children’s proximity to parks and playgrounds, as well as stores that sell healthy foods. The research team at Rutgers will examine changes in physical activity and the environment as they occur. The team will also assess unintended changes, such as the closing of a supermarket due to changes in the local economy.