Now Viewing: 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).

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

Nov 22, 2013, 1:32 PM, Posted by Cathy 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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Communities Need More Ladders, Fewer Chutes

Nov 8, 2013, 1:33 PM, Posted by Katie Loovis

GSK IMPACT Grants GlaxoSmithKline supports some urban redevelopment projects because they lead to healthier communities—this piece of artwork, for example, inspires community members to bike around town. (Photo: GSK)

Katie Loovis is director of U.S. community partnerships and stakeholder engagement for GlaxoSmithKline, the global health care company. In this role, Katie is responsible for providing leadership and shaping strategy for GSK’s U.S. community engagement and philanthropic activities at the national, state, and local levels, and building relationships.

Chutes and Ladders—one of the greatest board games in human history—is a game of rewards and consequences. You make a move and are met with a benefit (ladder to a higher level) or a detriment (chute to a lower level). All the while, you’re aiming for the top, journeying toward the blue ribbon finish.

Living a long and healthy life is kind of like a game of chutes and ladders. You might go along thinking that by visiting your doctor every year (ladder) and choosing to nosh on lots of veggies (ladder) that you are on-track, but ... sorry! Your neighborhood lacks a grocery store stocked with healthy foods (chute), it doesn’t have any safe parks or green spaces to exercise (chute), you live in a house full of smokers (chute); and to top it all off, you just lost your job in this tough economy (chute !).

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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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Fighting Childhood Obesity by Design Thinking

Oct 9, 2013, 1:38 PM, Posted by Vanessa Farrell

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Gone are the days when the role of a designer was limited to boosting the aesthetic appeal of a product. Today, Design and design-thinking increasingly play integral roles in the research, development, and implementation of products, processes, services, and strategy. Design is becoming design thinking.

A quick Google search of the definition of design thinking states that “….it is a process for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result. It is the essential ability to combine empathy, creativity and rationality to meet user needs and drive business success.”

That’s the kind of thinking that is needed to successfully tackle childhood obesity prevention—a fundamental issue for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Our stated goal is to reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity in the U.S. by 2015, but we recognize that we can’t achieve this ambitious goal on our own. We need all hands on deck. As we explore potential partners in this effort, designers emerge as a key ally who have not been fully tapped.

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Childhood Obesity Is Everybody's Problem

Aug 9, 2013, 9:59 AM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Why? Because, aside from the deleterious impact on the health of kids individually, childhood obesity can have an adverse effect on “our economy, our health care system, and our future,” writes RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, in a new blog post on the professional social networking site, LinkedIn.

So what can you do? Quite a bit, Lavizzo-Mourey concludes.

The rate of childhood obesity has been soaring for more than three decades. That has been cause for deep distress, and still is. All the same, she writes, there is new reason for hope, and it is to be found in the findings of an August 6 report by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).

The report suggests that, for the first time, obesity rates dropped in 18 states and one U.S. territory in recent years for low-income children ages 2 to 4.

The report, while not cause for complacency, suggests that—although childhood obesity is still a major health concern—there are steps we can take to arrest and reverse the epidemic.

“The diverse group of states and communities with declines have instituted a wide range of programs to help families make healthy choices where they live, learn, play, and work—programs that can be adapted and scaled up by other regions,” Lavizzo-Mourey asserts. “All of these communities have one important thing in common—they have made childhood obesity prevention a priority.”

In 2007, the Foundation pledged $500 million to meet a goal of reversing the epidemic by 2015. “We know we can do it,” Lavizzo-Mourey writes, “but we can’t do it alone.”

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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What’s With Our National Donut Worship?

Jun 18, 2013, 9:50 AM, Posted by Cathy Arnst

Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe

Just last month the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation claimed significant progress in reaching their goal of removing 1.5 trillion calories from the U.S. food marketplace. This month, a goodly portion of those calories may be back in play—thanks to the Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe sandwich.

No, I am not making this up. The donut-shrouded sloppy joe is the proud creation of Chicken Charlie’s, food provider to county fairs in California. What’s more, it’s been written up in numerous media outlets, including Time magazine, which also provided the valuable service of informing its readers about Dunkin Donut’s entry into the lunch category, the doughnut bacon sandwich. Time has alerted America to the imminent arrival of the salty caramel pretzel donut as well. Gee, thanks.  

How discouraging that, despite the escalating obesity crisis in the U.S. among adults and, even more scarily, children, America seems to be obsessed with donuts. Or at least the media is. NBC’s Today show,  the BBC, and numerous other outlets have all done fawning features on a baked good hybrid that is evidently the must-have food item in New York City right now—the cronut, a hunk of dough that is a cross between a croissant and a donut. New Yorkers and tourists alike are standing in line for up to two hours to shell out $5 each. Limit, six to a customer. 

Now the cronut has competition from the sconut, a cross between a donut and a scone, discovered recently by intrepid reporters at Newsday and NPR.  In case donuts aren’t your thing, you can keep abreast of the news of the nationwide shortage of Speculoos, cookie butter sold by Trader Joe’s—a national crisis for sure.

None of this is news you can use.  Right now, 30.5 percent of U.S. children between the ages of 10 and 17 are obese. The highest levels of obesity are found in low income and rural neighborhoods where fast food outlets selling donuts and the like are far more common than supermarkets.  I’d like to see some media coverage of some of the many efforts to combat obesity, not add to it, such as the Healthy Food Access Portal, the first comprehensive  web portal designed to help communities launch healthy food retail projects across the country. It was created by PolicyLink, The Food Trust, and The Reinvestment Fund with a grant from RWJF.

Or how about a story on some of the many community gardens where children are learning not only how to grow vegetables, but like them?  More articles like this, about the value of cooking at home, and some easy, affordable recipes, for families with little time to whip up gourmet meals, would also be nice.

In December the New York Times did a page one story about the first declines in the rates of childhood obesity in several cities, after decades of steady increases--the kind of media story it would be great to see more often. Hopefully we won’t see that progress fall to the wayside this summer because of this national celebration of all things donut-related.

New Brunswick Bike Exchange on a Roll

Jun 12, 2013, 1:04 PM, Posted by Jeff Meade

bikevolunteers Left to right: Marisa Rodriguez-McGill, Leighann Kimber, and Julio Garcia, PRAB director of operations

More than a dozen bicycles are stacked upright on a pair of racks in a sweltering New Brunswick warehouse. Most of the bikes are low-end Huffys and Schwinns, the kind of models you might pick up at a Walmart for under a hundred bucks, like a child’s powder blue two-wheeler, with scuffed white tires, banana seat, adorned with dog and kitty decals. One or two—like a sleek, sturdy Cannondale—are more expensive models, aimed at serious cyclists.

In too many cases, bikes like these would have been destined for the landfill. Not so these bicycles. They’re getting a second lease on life—chains cleaned and re-lubricated, bald or flat tires replaced, crooked handlebars re-aligned, here and there a spot of touch-up paint. Soon they’ll be sold, heavily discounted—as low as $10, as high as $120 for the high-end models—to residents who otherwise would be unable to afford this economical, healthful and fun mode of urban transportation.

The New Brunswick Bike Exchange is a nascent project of the non-profit organization PRAB (Puerto Rican Action Board), which is a partner of the Foundation’s statewide New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids program. The Partnership focuses on efforts to combat the childhood obesity epidemic.

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