The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced it will commit $500 million over the next 10 years to expand efforts to fight childhood obesity. Building on a $500 million commitment made in 2007, the nation’s largest health philanthropy will have dedicated more than $1 billion to reversing the childhood obesity epidemic.
The effort is part of the foundation’s “Culture of Health” campaign launched last year. (See U.S. 1, June 4, 2014.)
RWJF said in a statement that it was planning an intensified focus on those places and populations hardest hit by an “epidemic” of childhood obesity. New work will advance strategies that help eliminate health disparities that contribute to higher obesity rates among children of color and children living in poverty across the United States. The foundation also announced an expanded focus on preventing obesity in early childhood and on engaging parents, youth, and health care providers to be active champions for healthier communities and schools.
RWJF programs have taken place in schools and communities nationwide. The foundation says states and cities ranging from California to Mississippi, and New York City to Anchorage, Alaska, have begun reporting declining childhood obesity rates.
“By 2025 we want to ensure that children in America grow up at a healthy weight, no matter who they are or where they live,” said RWJF president and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD. “We have made substantial progress, but there is far more to do and we can’t stop now. This commitment is part of the foundation’s effort to build a culture of health in every community across the country. We all have a role to play in our homes, schools, and neighborhoods to ensure that all kids have healthy food and safe places to play.”
The foundation has a number of ambitious goals, including ensuring children enter kindergarten at a healthy weight, improving healthy school environments, making physical activity an everyday experience for children, making healthy food and drinks available and affordable, and eliminating the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks among children five and under.
RWJF says its new commitment follows research showing progress toward reversing the childhood obesity epidemic. On a national level, childhood obesity rates have begun to level off, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also released data last year showing rates may be decreasing among the nation’s youngest children.
Despite the recent positive news, more than one third of young people are overweight or obese — a rate far higher than it was a generation ago. African-American and Latino youth continue to have higher obesity rates than their white peers, even in most areas reporting overall progress. Among the cities and states reporting good news on obesity, only Philadelphia has measured progress toward narrowing disparity gaps. In that city childhood obesity rates have declined overall, and the steepest drops have been among African-American boys and Latino girls, two groups with historically high obesity rates.
“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is in this fight for the long haul to ensure that all kids grow up at a healthy weight,” said Roger S. Fine, chairman of the RWJF board. “With this new commitment, we look forward to working with existing and new allies to realize a future in which every child can live a long, healthy life.”