Special Issue of Health Affairs Highlights Key Research on Childhood Obesity

Journal addresses disparities within obesity rates, considers policy challenges and potential for reversing epidemic.

    • March 1, 2010

In its March 2010 issue, Health Affairs focuses almost exclusively on the childhood obesity epidemic and the policy approaches that could have greatest impact for helping to solve this public health crisis.

The special issue, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, looks at policy changes on the local, state and federal levels. RWJF grantees authored several of the studies, including:

  • “Are ‘Competitive Foods’ Making Our Children Fat?” by Nicole Larson and Mary Story, who confirm what many people have long suspected—a child’s risk for obesity increases when unhealthy, high-calorie foods are available in school stores and vending machines.
  • “Lessons from Pennsylvania’s Mixed Response to Federal School Wellness Law” by Claudia Probart and colleagues, which examines Pennsylvania’s comprehensive, multi-faceted response to the local wellness policy requirement in the Child Nutrition and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Reauthorization Act of 2004. Though implementation results were mixed, the state offers valuable lessons to others trying to promote good nutrition and wellness.
  • “Federal Food Policy and Childhood Obesity: A Solution or Part of the Problem?” by Rachel Tolbert Kimbro and Elizabeth Rigby, which concludes that subsidized meals at school and day care may help children, particularly low-income children, maintain a healthy weight. But the authors found that food assistance programs may contribute to childhood obesity in cities with high food prices because healthier foods aren’t affordable.

In addition, the journal explores the role of personal responsibility in childhood obesity, parallels between the anti-smoking movement and obesity prevention, and the economics of childhood obesity in terms of investment and cost.

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the Foundation, noted the particular timeliness of the Health Affairs studies:

“RWJF’s strategy has always focused on changing public policies and reshaping community environments. So I feel very hopeful and encouraged by what is taking place across the nation, at the federal level and in states, neighborhoods and schools. More and more people—from First Lady Michelle Obama to parents across the country—now recognize the steps that must be taken to help our children get the nutritious food and physical activity they need to grow up healthy.”

“With research such as the studies highlighted in Health Affairs, and the growing momentum of programs, policies and public urgency, we absolutely can succeed in reversing the childhood obesity epidemic.”