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New School Year Means New Opportunities to Build Healthy Campuses

Oct 14, 2014, 5:14 PM, Posted by Ginny Ehrlich

RWJF Philadelphia Child Obesity

September always brings the promise of a fresh start, especially for school age kids and their parents. New teachers, new books, new supplies, new shoes. And hopefully, a renewed emphasis on healthy choices. This week is National School Lunch Week, a time to highlight the importance of serving healthy school meals to students throughout the U.S.

Making sure all children have access to healthy food and drinks is a key priority for RWJF. Schools are where kids spend the most amount of time outside of their homes, so it’s an ideal place to instill lessons about the importance of eating healthy and being active. That’s why we are leading a number of initiatives to highlight how healthy school food, as well as recess and physical education (PE), contribute to nationwide efforts to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity.

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Cutting Calories: Good for Health, Good for Business

Sep 16, 2014, 12:58 PM, Posted by RWJF Blog Team

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Four years ago, 16 companies, acting together as part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), announced an ambitious pledge—to remove 1.5 trillion calories from the U.S. marketplace by 2015. They wanted to help reduce obesity in America, especially childhood obesity. Research published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine confirms that the companies far exceeded their pledge, and are making a difference that’s helping families buy fewer calories.

Collectively, these companies sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in 2012 than they did in 2007, which we announced in early 2014. What’s new in these studies tells us that, during that same pledge period, families with children bought fewer calories from packaged foods and beverages—and the biggest cuts were from major sources of excess calories in kids’ diets, such as sweets, snacks, and soft drinks.

Why is this pledge so important, and what’s the next step for industry leaders who want to help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic? RWJF senior vice president Jim Marks and lead study author Barry Popkin, PhD, of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, share their views.

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Promoting A “Green” Culture of Health: Instead of Wasting Food, Getting it to Those Who Need It

Jun 25, 2014, 3:54 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

Mercer Street Friends Food Bank Warehouse Trenton

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” goes an old slogan of the United Negro College Fund. Another terrible thing to waste is healthy food.

That’s especially true in a nation where 1 in 7 U.S. households are “food insecure”—that is, they lack consistent, dependable access, typically for financial reasons, to “enough food for active, healthy living,” as a U.S. Department of Agriculture report puts it. About 1 in 10 U.S. households have food-insecure children—an equally appalling reality in a country that wastes an estimated 30 to 40 percent of its food supply, or a whopping 133 billion pounds of food in 2010 alone.

In California’s Orange County, however, a solution is at hand—and there’s no reason it couldn’t take hold and spread nationwide. Since 2012, the Waste Not Orange County Coalition, a public-private partnership, has worked to boost donations to local food pantries of surplus healthy food from local restaurants, grocery stores and other facilities. The organization was formed out of the realization that enough food was tossed out every day to feed the nearly 380,000 local residents—almost half of them children—who are deemed food insecure.

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Closing the Gap on Child Obesity

May 22, 2014, 9:56 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

An elementary school student takes plastic cutlery for the meal he is holding.

Imagine a splashy, big bucks television commercial selling kids on the tantalizing deliciousness of eating ... carrots.          

Or a new course sandwiched into already packed middle-school and high school curricula: “Food Shopping and Cooking for a Healthy Life.”

Sound implausible? Maybe—but then again, such innovations could be a part of what is needed to make more progress in the war on child obesity.

These were some of the suggestions that emerged from a recent conference in Newark, where the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Grantmakers in Health sponsored a day-long summit entitled Closing the Gap: Childhood Obesity (and in which I was a participant). You can watch a video of the meeting here.

As RWJF CEO, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey reminded the audience, the Foundation has set a goal of reversing the U.S. child obesity epidemic by 2015—and as that date approaches, she confessed, “I’m getting a little nervous.” (View Risa's remarks.)

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Partnering with Business to Create a Healthier Future

Mar 27, 2014, 6:10 PM, Posted by John Lumpkin

Joh Lumpkin at Partnership for a Healthier America

“I want you to join together with the band.”
—Join Together, The Who

I’ve been thinking about this lyric after attending an important health conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, focused on strategies and collaborations that can reverse the childhood obesity epidemic in the U.S. The attendees weren’t just your usual health conference suspects—researchers, medical professionals, public health officers, etc. The Building a Healthier Future summit, convened by the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), also offered leaders from the nonprofit, academic, and public sectors the all-too-rare opportunity to swap ideas and strategies with corporate executives.

Now that’s a band.

If you’re thinking that a healthier future and the likes of Pepsico and Del Monte Foods have nothing in common, it is time to revise your thinking. PHA was formed in 2010, at the same time as Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, to work with the private sector to develop strategies for addressing childhood obesity (RWJF was one of the founding partners).

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Simple, Small Changes Can Lead to Healthier Food Choices

Jan 21, 2014, 11:20 AM, Posted by Deborah Bae

Culture of Health Blog Post Framed Traffic Light

At this time of year, many of us find ourselves trying hard to stick to that New Year’s resolution to eat healthier. Here is some good news: simple changes in our environment can have meaningful, sustained effects on our ability to make healthy food choices.

Committing to a healthier diet and trying to lose weight is hard, and many people believe they can do it as long as they have the right motivation and attitude. We’ll say things like, “I’m going to eat better” or “I’m going to eat fewer unhealthy foods.” But that commitment can be tough when people face a variety of unhealthy choices and just a few healthy ones. Or when it’s hard to tell which is which.

Researcher and physician Anne Thorndike and her colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital tested a novel idea: if all healthy food and drinks sold in the hospital cafeteria were labeled green, and all unhealthy items had red labels, would people make healthier choices?

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Putting the Great in Grateful

Dec 9, 2013, 11:31 AM, Posted by Joan Barlow

Mercer Street Friends Food Bank Warehouse Trenton Photo courtesy of Mercer Street Friends

We all have the ability to do something great, even if it’s in the smallest gesture.

I love Thanksgiving because it’s “four days, no presents.” There is no need to get caught up in the grind of competitive decorating, shopping ‘til you drop, or agonizing over finding the right gift for that special person. It’s food, family, fun—and, of course, gratitude. After all, you can’t say Thanksgiving without the thanks.

I was lucky to learn at an early age how fortunate I’ve been and I try  to express my gratitude as much as possible. To be healthy, surrounded by family is a true blessing, even when coupled with difficult times. In recent years, I’ve been especially thankful for the opportunity to work at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). My extended family at work is made up of warm, caring people who are passionate about our mission to ensure that all Americans have an opportunity to lead healthy and fulfilling lives—those same opportunities that I’ve been afforded.

In addition to the Foundation’s national efforts, RWJF makes a special effort in its home state of New Jersey. So last week, several colleagues and I volunteered at Mercer Street Friends Food Bank in Trenton—the largest source of government- and privately-donated food in Mercer County. The Food Bank channels 3 million pounds of food annually to the various food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.

During our day there, we sifted and sorted, checked expiration dates on donated foods, and, because of the time of year, loaded up bags of Thanksgiving fixings for distribution for many of the 25,000 people at risk for hunger in Mercer County. These are families who go without what many of us often take for granted. It was interesting to me that the cellphones never appeared; there wasn’t that tug to keep checking email or follow Twitter feeds. It wasn’t spoken, but I think we all realized that what we were doing was too important, and deserved all our respect and attention. Even though our effort was small—after all, it was only one day—in someone else’s eyes it might be seen as something great.

As we worked, it brought to light for many of us the sheer volume of food needed, as well as what it takes to put together healthy offerings and supplies for the working poor, children in low-income households, the elderly, disabled, and homeless. I also reflected that, while Thanksgiving is a day when we do recognize what others do without, we don’t often remember that these families live in poverty and need our help—not just around Thanksgiving—but all year long. And not having basic everyday necessities, like nutritious food, can severely impact the health of families, particularly children.

So maybe Thanksgiving shouldn’t come only once a year. After all, aren’t we thankful for the things we have every day? The power of gratitude should be recognized as a challenge to be great—even in the smallest of efforts. Maybe that’s the magic about it.

I was proud—no, I was grateful—to work at Mercer Street Friends, and I will do it again. So as we enter the holiday season, count your blessings each and every day and let gratitude drive you to greatness.

Joan Barlow is the Foundation's Creative Services Manager.

A New Holiday Tradition—Tasty Recipes that are Healthy, Too

Nov 26, 2013, 5:01 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

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Thanksgiving is almost upon us, ushering in a month-long season of holiday parties, groaning boards of food, favorite family recipes, cookie swaps, and an extra five pounds around the waistline. Instead of just giving in to the excess and making January the month of dieting, perhaps we could make a few adjustments. I’ve asked around the Foundation staff for some healthy holiday recipes instead of the usual green bean casserole and cream-laden sides. Here are some tried and true alternatives, that are kid–friendly as well!

In fact, why not invite any children about the house (or adults who are still kids at heart) to help whip up some of these dishes. Children love to grate, stir, and shake, and the older ones will go at chopping with a vengeance. It’s never too early to teach them to cook, as discussed on this blog a few days ago.

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Get Out of the Drive-Thru Lane. Learn to Cook!

Nov 22, 2013, 1:32 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

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Some statistics worth pondering: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends only 33 minutes a day on food preparation. Just over half of Americans bother to cook every day. On the other hand, 33 percent of children and 41 percent of teenagers eat fast food, every single day.

These fast food children are consuming 126 additional calories, and the teens 310 extra calories, than if they had avoided the chains, says Fast Food Facts 2013, a new report by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and funded by RWJF. Most of these children are eating adult meals, too, not the smaller-portioned children’s meals on offer. Not that it would matter, since less than one percent of all kids’ meal served at fast food chains meet recommended nutrition standards.

It’s not much of a stretch to link the lack of home cooking, a diet of fast food, and the fact that a third of U.S. children and adolescents are obese. So, what’s a parent to do? Well for one thing, we could learn to cook.

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Another Sign of Progress on Childhood Obesity

Aug 6, 2013, 2:00 PM, Posted by Jim Marks

 A young girl eating an apple.

Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that obesity rates among young children from low-income families are falling in 18 states and one U.S. territory—and rising in only three states. 

What an important sign of progress for all of us working to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic! It’s especially terrific because it builds on recent positive news coming from all across the nation.

Childhood obesity rates are falling in states like West Virginia, Mississippi, New Mexico and California. They’re dropping in big cities like New York and rural areas like Vance and Granville Counties, North Carolina.

Today’s news is of falling obesity rates among children participating in federal health and nutrition programs, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program, better known as WIC. These are young children in low-income families. Children who have been at the highest risk for obesity and whose families have had the most limited chances to make healthy choices. So this is huge.

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