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What Will it Take to Help All Kids Grow Up at a Healthy Weight?

Mar 4, 2015, 11:16 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

We can all play a role in helping children grow up at a healthy weight, including the U.S. Soccer Foundation. Their work is helping make strides in reducing childhood obesity rates. Here's how.

A group of teens playing soccer.

Washington, D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood is named after Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the all-black regiment that fought for the Union during the Civil War. Today, the multi-ethnic neighborhood is home to the U Street Corridor, a revived commercial district known in the early 1900s as “Black Broadway"; Ben’s Chili Bowl, a celebrated city landmark; and Seaton Elementary, a public school whose students are mainly Hispanic, African-American, and Asian.  

It’s also home to the young goalie of Seaton’s soccer team, sixth grader Kevin Alvarez.

Like many kids in his neighborhood, Kevin, age 13, never played sports until recently, and was seriously overweight. Then his school was fortunate to become home to Soccer for Success®, a program managed locally by DC SCORES, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit.

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Setting Our Sights on Healthy Media Consumption

Feb 23, 2015, 4:27 PM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

Alonzo Plough, PhD, MPH, is vice president, Research-Evaluation-Learning and chief science officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read more from his series.

kidsfastfoodads_part2

Childhood obesity is a tremendous threat to the current and future health of our young people. Compared with their healthy-weight peers, obese children face a higher risk for serious health problems, miss more school, have greater psychological stress, and are more likely to become obese as adults. If we don’t do something to reverse this epidemic, the nation’s current generation could be the first in history to live sicker and die younger than their parents’ generation. This is why RWJF recently pledged $500 million over the next 10 years to support strategies aimed at helping all children in the United States grow up at a healthy weight. This new funding increases our investment in preventing childhood obesity to more than $1 billion—the largest commitment we have ever made on a single issue.

We are in it for the long haul, and we have already seen signs of progress. Research published last year showed obesity prevalence among 2 to 5 years old dropped by approximately 40 percent in eight years. But nearly one-third of children and adolescents in the U.S. are still obese or overweight, and more than 25 million are at risk for high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes because of their weight.

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We Must All Play a Role in Ending Childhood Obesity

Feb 5, 2015, 1:00 PM, Posted by Sen. Bill Frist, MD

A mother walking with her daughters on sidewalk

We all want our kids and grandkids to grow up happier and healthier than we did. Instead, today’s children are the first generation of young Americans to face the prospect of living their entire lives in poorer health and dying younger than previous generations.

The reason is no mystery. Too many of our children – one in three, according to studies – are overweight. We are allowing, and in some ways encouraging, our kids to consume more calories, more sugar, more fat, more sodium. At the same time we’re enabling a more sedentary lifestyle. Running, jumping, skipping, dancing, biking – today’s children simply don’t move as much as they once did, making it that much harder to keep off the pounds.

The childhood obesity epidemic is having a devastating affect on too many families. Obese and overweight children are sick more often. They too often endure prejudice and bullying at school, leaving them embarrassed and depressed. They miss more school. When they grow up, they have more difficulty leading productive work lives. And they are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses directly linked to obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease. 

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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