Explore the Blog Explore Blog

Now Viewing: Childhood Obesity

Changing the Conversation about Obesity

Jan 9, 2015, 4:02 PM, Posted by Darrin Anderson

Children play tether ball on a playground. "Our goal is to help children and communities achieve a healthy weight through prevention strategies that support access to affordable, healthy foods and increase opportunities for safe physical activity."

Nearly one in four children ages 10-17 in New Jersey is overweight or obese, leading to a plethora of adult-style health issues in kids,  such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Even more concerning: If the prevalence of obesity continues to rise, New Jersey’s obesity-related health care spending could quadruple to $9.3 billion by 2018. In order to truly have an impact on those costs, both human and monetary, we need to change the way we talk about obesity.

The New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids (NJPHK) recently hosted a conference to do just that. More than 300 community leaders, dietitians, teachers, school nurses, and social workers gathered at our Building Healthy, Equitable Communities conference on December 3 to talk about what works, and doesn’t work, in the fight against obesity. Ultimately, we all need to work together to build a Culture of Health in communities where everyone can reach optimal health, regardless of the color of their skin or where they live.

View full post

Will Menu Calorie Counts Help Whittle America’s Waistline?

Nov 7, 2014, 2:00 PM

By Sheree Crute

Maricelle Ramirez is a foot soldier in America’s battle against obesity. For three years, Ramirez has politely offered Boston area patrons of McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s and Subway a $2 gift card in exchange for their estimates of the amount of calories in their fast-food feasts.

“I’ve met all types of people,” Ramirez says, recalling the surprise of encountering a nutritionist who was on her way out of McDonald’s after chowing down on a burger and fries. “She explained that she was just enjoying a meal because she had a craving for something indulgent, but she provided a very careful nutritional analysis of what she was eating.”

At the other end of the spectrum was an older woman leaving Kentucky Fried Chicken with a drumsticks-to-mashed potatoes spread for her family who confessed, “I don’t know much about the calorie content of the food, but it would really make a difference for me and my family if I had more information.”

View full post

Teen Take Heart

Nov 5, 2014, 11:00 AM, Posted by Steven Palazzo

Steven J. Palazzo, PhD, MN, RN, CNE, is an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at Seattle University, and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar (2013 – 2016. ) His research focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of the Teen Take Heart program in mitigating cardiovascular risk factors in at-risk high school students.

Steven Palazzo

Difficult problems demand innovative solutions. Teen Take Heart (TTH) is a program I’ve worked to develop, in partnership with The Hope Heart Institute and with support from the RWJF Nurse Faulty Scholars Program, to address locally a problem we face nationally: an alarming increase in obesity and other modifiable cardiovascular risk factors among teenagers. The problem is substantial and costly in both economic and human terms. We developed TTH as a solution that could, if it proves effective in trials that begin this fall in my native Washington state, be translated to communities across the country.

The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, released recently by the Trust for America’s Health and RWJF, makes it clear that as a nation we are not winning the battle on obesity. The report reveals that a staggering 31.8 percent of children in the United States are overweight or obese and only 25 percent get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. The report also finds that only 5 percent of school districts nationwide have a wellness program that meets the physical education time requirement.

View full post

Obesity in America: Are We Turning the Corner?

Sep 4, 2014, 9:18 AM, Posted by John R. Lumpkin

Childhood Obesity West Virginia

What word describes the current state of obesity in the United States?

How about the unexpected: Optimistic.

You might think that would be the least likely descriptor. After all, the annual report The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, released today by Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), says adult obesity rates went up in six states over last year.

The obesity rate is now at or above 30 percent in 20 states (as high as 35 percent in Mississippi and West Virginia), and not below 21 percent in any. Colorado has the lowest rate at 21.3 percent, which still puts it higher than today’s highest state—Mississippi—was 20 years ago.  The childhood obesity headlines are difficult to swallow as well. As of 2011-2012, nearly one out of three children and teens ages 2 to 19 is overweight or obese. Similar to adults, racial and ethnic disparities persist. And rates are higher still among Black and Latino communities.

But if we look a little deeper, we see a hint of promise on the horizon.

View full post

Living Out Their Salad Days: Shaping Healthier Environments for Kids in the Nation’s Schools

Sep 2, 2014, 10:59 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

A school lunchroom full of hundreds of young children, happily slurping up ... salad.

If you’re someone who’s ever struggled to get kids to eat their vegetables, it sounds like an impossible dream.

But this is reality at Anne Frank Elementary School, the largest in Philadelphia, with 1,200 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. Serving salads was the brainchild of Anne Frank principal Mickey Komins, who had the salads brought in from a local high school cafeteria.

Along with the after-school Zumba and kickboxing classes that the school now sponsors for kids, parents, and staff, healthier food offerings are among the innovations that earned Anne Frank an award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The Alliance, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grantee, is a nonprofit founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation to help stem the tide of childhood obesity. It’s at the vanguard of a growing national movement to turn schools into healthier environments, and offer kids fundamental lifelong lessons about maintaining their health.

View full post

TEDMED Great Challenges: A Candid Conversation About Childhood Obesity

Jul 23, 2014, 3:57 PM

A 2012 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and Trust for America’s Health concluded that if the adult and childhood obesity rates in 2011 continued to increase at their steady paces, then by 2030 nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults would be obese and every single state would have obesity rates above 44 percent.

Data now show that childhood obesity rates have stabilized. In fact, for the first time in a decade the obesity rates among young children from low-income families in many states is trending down.

Helping lead the way in this important public health issue has been the city of Philadelphia, Penn., which has worked to improve access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity.

“We were very fortunate in Philadelphia to have colleagues...who have developed a better understanding of childhood obesity,” said Don Schwarz, former Health Commissioner and Deputy Mayor for Health and Opportunity, City of Philadelphia, and will also soon take on the role of director for RWJF’s Demand Team. “What that has meant is that Philadelphia was able to take a body of knowledge and bring it to scale. The partnership in Philadelphia that has allowed that to happen goes across government and between government and the private sector and community organizations—just everyday Philadelphians. So that kind of partnership, that wonderful knowledge base, has I believed turned the corner on childhood obesity, particularly for children who are of disadvantaged communities.”

Schwarz’s comments came during the Tuesday, July 22 Google Hangout TEDMED Great Challenges: A Candid Conversation About Childhood Obesity. The panel was moderated by Richard Besser, Chief Health and Medical Editor for ABC News.

Every member of the panel echoed the importance of partnerships, and Besser succinctly explained their critical role in not just obesity prevention but all public health efforts.

“The more creatively you can think and the wider variety of partners you can pull in, the more likely you are to be successful,” he said.

At the heart of Philadelphia’s success has been the important role that schools play in that community partnership. According to Schwarz, for the past decade the city’s schools have worked to reshape how they approach children’s health and wellbeing, including comprehensive nutrition policies, a new food environment that emphasizes healthy choices and more opportunities for kids to be physically active. One can’t be successful without the other.

View full post

What's Next Health: A Primer On Epigenetics

Jul 16, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Nancy Barrand

Randy Jirtle Photo courtesy of Duke University Medical Center

Each month, What’s Next Health talks with leading thinkers with big ideas about the future of health and health care. Nancy Barrand, RWJF’s senior adviser for program development, hosted Randy Jirtle, senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison McArdle Laboratory, for a fascinating discussion about his work in epigenetics. Randy’s pioneering work in this field holds far-reaching implications for understanding and addressing the interplay between our genes and our environment. Randy answered follow up questions from Nancy to help lay out the basics behind epigenetics and what it might mean for our work moving forward. (Randy’s opinions are not necessarily those of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.)

Nancy Barrand: What is epigenetics?

Randy Jirtle: Epigenetics simply means above the genetics, and it refers to the study of heritable changes in gene function that occur without a change in the DNA sequence. So we now know that chemical modifications of the DNA, and the histones the DNA wraps around, actually determine whether genes are functional or not functional. These chemical modifications can be caused by environmental factors that we are exposed to, such as the nutrients we eat—or those our mother ate—or stress at critical junctures in our development.

Understanding how a single epigenetic change can totally disrupt the action or expression of a gene is providing us for the first time with information that will ultimately allow people to prevent diseases and conditions from ever happening, rather than just treating them after they occur.

View full post

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.)

View full post

To Address Childhood Obesity, Companies Must Join the Fight

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

Risa Trenton Times cropped 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.

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).

View full post