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To Address Childhood Obesity, Companies Must Join the Fight

May 7, 2014, 4:38 PM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MPH Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MPH

We’re seeing signs of promise in the effort to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States. Overall childhood obesity rates have leveled off—and they’ve even declined in some regions and among some age groups.

But it’s far too early to declare victory, writes RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, in a new post on the professional social networking site LinkedIn. The rate of obesity among U.S. teens, she notes, stands at a “shocking 21 percent, and Hispanic and African-American youth still have higher obesity rates than their white and Asian peers.”

To make more progress, Lavizzo-Mourey says, we need more people and organizations in the fight—particularly the business community.

So what more can be done? On Thursday, May 8, Lavizzo-Mourey and influential leaders from throughout the nation—including many from the business community—met to consider innovative approaches in a forum, “Closing the Gap in Childhood Obesity,” sponsored by RWJF and the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, in collaboration with Grantmakers in Health. The forum focused on developing solutions to the inequities that exist in childhood health and childhood obesity.

Progress, Hope, and Commitment

Feb 28, 2014, 10:55 AM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA

Nearly seven years ago, this Foundation made a major commitment to reversing the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic. We had many reasons, but chief among them was the decades of data showing more and more young people in America facing greater challenges to growing up healthy. We, and many others, knew it was an unsustainable path. So we pledged $500 million to reverse the trend, and joined forces with a wide range of partners to address the many different facets that an effort of this magnitude would require. Big challenges require big commitments.

This week has been one of the most exciting in the last seven years. Research published Tuesday shows a major decline in the obesity rate among children ages 2 to 5 over the last eight years. This is a very real sign of progress, because we know that preventing obesity at an early age is likely to help children maintain a healthy weight into adulthood. The significant decline measured by researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention follows progress we’ve started to see over the last 18 months.

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Coming to the Rescue of Young Men of Color

Feb 27, 2014, 4:30 PM, Posted by Maisha Simmons

The Alameda County Public Health Department's EMS Corps program is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

When he was 17, Dexter Harris was good at two things: football and hustling. Although he went to school, he spent most of his time trying to earn money. He wasn’t thinking about his future. He was thinking about surviving the here and now.

Instead of finishing his senior year, Dexter found himself in a California juvenile facility. There, he met a mentor named Mike who told Dexter about a new program, EMS Corps, that offered far more than emergency medical training (EMT) classes. EMS Corps also provided tutoring, mentoring and leadership classes, and was looking for people from the community who were willing and ready to serve in the emergency services field.

After hearing about EMS Corps, something changed for Dexter. He weighed his options and saw that with EMS Corps he could actually have the chance for a different life. Dexter threw himself into studying, and eventually graduated first in his EMS Corps class. As a certified EMT, Dexter now has a career with Paramedics Plus and returns to the juvenile facility to teach other young people about being a First Responder.

Dexter Harris Dexter Harris

In every community there are young men like Dexter who have the potential to succeed.  But like most young people, they need help and support to bring out their best.

Today, I was honored to be present at the White House as President Obama helped to add more momentum to a growing movement to expand opportunity for young men of color. I was joined by leaders from both the public and private sector committing their intellect, creativity, passion and resources to continue to identify solutions for men and boys of color.

I was inspired by the continuing and new energy to ensure that every young man has the opportunity make healthy choices and has the tools to live a healthy life. That includes skills to succeed in school and work. EMS Corps is just one bright light among the many innovative and inspiring approaches that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been proud to support as part of its effort to create a culture of health and opportunity for all young people.  This new national initiative announced at the White House brings a new chance to build upon this exciting and important work.

It’s not just EMS Corps. Look at our Forward Promise partners to see the richness of programs already lifting up young men. It’s not just the White House and our Foundation colleagues in this movement either. There are thousands of teachers, police chiefs, state and local legislators, judges, church leaders, and community based organizations from across the country that are taking steps to ensure that all young people in America, including our young men of color, have the opportunity to succeed. If our job is to build a culture of health for all young men, then those collective efforts are its vital building blocks.

As I arrived at the White House this afternoon, I couldn’t help but think of Dexter. And of all of the “Dexters” who will benefit from this unprecedented moment of commitment to hope, change, and opportunity for our sons, brothers, students and neighbors. I’m proud to be a part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and of this larger movement. Together we can bring out the best in our young men. And they—in achieving their promise—can bring out the best in all of us.

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Wouldn't It Be Great if Athletes Were Health Heroes?

Oct 10, 2013, 10:13 AM, Posted by Kathryn Thomas

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When I see top athletes hawking junk foods and sugary beverages, it makes me want to blow a whistle and call a foul. When men and women who are at the peak of their athletic prowess push products that do nothing to contribute to peak performance, our nation’s kids are getting the wrong messages.

A new study by the Rudd Center on Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University shows that the vast majority of foods and beverages touted by top athletes are unhealthy products, like sports drinks, soft drinks, and fast food. It also reveals that adolescents ages 12 to 17 see the most TV ads for foods endorsed by athletes. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Rudd Foundation funded the study, which appears in the November edition of Pediatrics.

So what effect might this have on kids?

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Trumping ACEs: Building Resilience and Better Health in Kids and Families Experiencing Trauma

Jun 19, 2013, 4:18 PM, Posted by Susan Promislo

ACEs Mobile

Fifteen years ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study found that children exposed to traumatic events were more likely to develop mental and behavioral health problems like depression and addiction. They were also more likely to have physical illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.

Today, based on that evidence, we are witnessing a health revolution.

An op-ed published today in The Philadelphia Inquirer highlights a recent summit and ongoing efforts in Philadelphia to raise awareness about the negative impact of ACEs on health, education, and other outcomes. The piece states:

Neuroscientists have found that traumatic childhood events like abuse and neglect can create dangerous levels of stress and derail healthy brain development, putting young brains in permanent "fight or flight" mode. What scientists often refer to as "toxic stress" has damaging long-term effects on learning, behavior, and health. Very young children are especially vulnerable.

The same message was echoed in testimony today at the RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America convening in Washington, D.C., where panelists like Jack Shonkoff of the Harvard Center for the Developing Child emphasized the need for early childhood interventions that focus on building the capabilities of parents to protect their children from high levels of violence and stress, and model resilience. 

Continuing to develop our understanding of the connection between ACEs and poor health and other social outcomes, and supporting interventions like Child First, Nurse-Family Partnership, and other efforts that work to stabilize fragile families and put children on the path to healthy development  will help shape RWJF’s ongoing efforts to foster a vibrant culture of health in communities nationwide.

Learn more about ACEs

Ranking the Healthiest Counties for Kids

Jun 13, 2013, 4:43 PM, Posted by Joe Marx

Healthy Eating at School

Let’s say you’re moving your family to a new community.  Could be a job opportunity or life change.  When it comes to health, should you be thinking about the quality of hospital care for your kids?  Or, whether the community you’re going to is a healthy place for kids to grow up and thrive?

Well, both matter, but until recently, the things that lead to better health—and perhaps keep kids from going to the hospital in the first place—have received less attention.  But we are beginning to see a dynamic shift from emphasis on sick care to prevention and wellness.  A good example is this week’s US News & World Report ranking of “America’s 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids”. These are the folks who give us report cards on colleges, hospitals and best places to retire. Released as part of their “Best Children’s Hospitals” annual report, the article emphasizes important factors that lead to better health, or not, in the places where we live and raise our families. Things like how many kids are living in poverty, teen birth rates, infant deaths and injuries.

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