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How Food Marketing Can Help Kids Want What’s Good For Them

Aug 11, 2015, 2:45 PM, Posted by Victoria Brown

If we want to ensure that all children are able to grow up at a healthy weight, companies can play a role by continuing to reduce marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages and increase promotion of healthy choices.

A student drinking from a carton of milk.

When it comes to helping Americans eat healthier, the conversation often focuses on price and access. But, there’s a third, equally consequential, condition: desire. Preference is shaped by myriad factors and the effects of marketing and advertising are of paramount importance. Food and beverage companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars to market their products, and their investments produce results: adults and kids are swayed by marketing.

A new report from the UConn Rudd Center for Food, Policy & Obesity reveals that a majority of the largest food and beverage companies are spending a disproportionate amount of money advertising their nutritionally poor products to Black and Hispanic consumers, especially youth. While food marketing is not inherently bad—it appears Sesame Street characters could be great “salespuppets” for fruits and veggies—it becomes a problem when it features unhealthy products known to contribute to obesity and other poor health outcomes. And, with rates of overweight/obesity higher among Black and Hispanic kids and teens, this type of business approach is especially harmful.

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New Report: Shifts in the Supermarket Aisles as Demand for Low-Calorie Options Grows

Jun 16, 2015, 10:50 AM, Posted by Victoria Brown

Research shows that supermarkets are responding to the growing demand for lower-calorie options, and that healthier options are good for their bottom line.

Supermarket aisle of juice packs and juice boxes.

At a very basic level, obesity is about an imbalance. Calories in and calories out need to be balanced, and if they’re not, we run the risk of gaining unhealthy weight. Now, that sounds simple, but of course we know it’s not. There’s so much that goes into the choices people, particularly children, are able to make about what they eat and drink and how much they move. The neighborhoods we live in―and where we buy foods and beverages―play an enormous role.

U.S. customers spend over $638 billion in supermarkets every year, so these stores have a major impact on what we all eat and drink every day. A recent report shows that, in keeping with recent changes to consumer demand, supermarkets are increasing their sales of lower-calorie items, and seeing financial benefits because of it.

Between 2009 and 2013, lower-calorie foods and beverages drove the bulk of supermarket sales growth, 59 percent, compared with just 41 percent for higher-calorie items. They also made up 58 percent of total supermarket sales.

This is great news, as it shows supermarkets are responding to the growing demand for lower-calorie options, and that their business performance is benefitting as a result.

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Making the Grade: An Assessment of the Healthy Weight Commitment

Jun 15, 2015, 10:00 AM, Posted by Ginny Ehrlich

Members of the food and beverage industry are taking steps to ensure that their investments towards the Healthy Weight Commitment are making a difference.

A mother and her daughter pushing full shopping carts outside a supermarket.

The food and beverage industries aren’t typically viewed as leaders in the movement to address the obesity crisis and alleviate food insecurity in the United States.

For that reason, the work of a consortium of 16 major food and beverage manufacturers and distributors is particularly interesting. The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF)—which includes such heavy-hitters as General Mills Inc, Kraft Foods Inc, and Nestle USA—is pioneering an innovative way to assess members’ philanthropic programs that target healthful eating and active living, to see just how much impact they’re having. The companies are trying to ensure that their investments--anything from support for local food banks to sponsorship of a 10k race promoting children growing up at a healthy weight-- really make a difference.

The ambitious effort involves a public-private partnership called Commitment to Healthy Communities (CHC) that teams the HWCF with the City University of New York School of Public Health. Using a specially designed framework, CUNY researchers will spend this summer evaluating which practices do and don’t work, on the program, company, and community levels.

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Q&A with Pau Gasol: The NBA All-Star's Health Advocacy Off-the-Court

Apr 20, 2015, 9:29 AM, Posted by Merlin Chowkwanyun

It may be NBA playoffs season, but the Gasol brothers are committed to promoting child health year round. RWJF Health & Society Scholar Merlin Chowkwanyun recently sat down with the Chicago Bulls' center to learn about his passion for health advocacy and how he's working to build a Culture of Health in the U.S. and abroad.

Gasol brothers Image credit: Joe Murphy (NBAE/Getty)

Since moving to the Chicago Bulls last summer, NBA star Pau Gasol has been having one of the most sensational seasons of his basketball career. A two-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, the new Bulls starting center is entering the playoffs as the league leader in double doubles, averaging about 18 points and 12 rebounds per game. In February, he and his younger brother Marc Gasol (of the Memphis Grizzlies) made NBA history as the first siblings to start in the annual All-Star Game: Pau for the East team, Marc for the West.

The two have been equally active off the court. In 2013, after years of work with various philanthropic associations, Pau and Marc formed the Gasol Foundation. It focuses on child health and works towards "a world where all children will enter adulthood physically and mentally equipped to live successful, healthy and productive lives." The Foundation recently launched outreach projects in two areas with severe socioeconomic disadvantage. Vida! Health & Wellness in Boyle Heights (Los Angeles) provides parents and children with instruction in physical activity, physiology, and fitness; healthy cooking and eating; and psychological wellness. L'Esport Suma in South Badalona (Catalonia, Spain) uses sports to promote human development and social cohesion among participants. It is run in conjunction with Casal dels Infants, a long-standing NGO in the region.

Pau has always been a very visible 7-foot presence—literally and figuratively—in Memphis, Los Angeles, and now Chicago, the three cities where he has played. Among other things, that included visiting patients and working with the Children's Hospital Los Angeles and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and around the world, raising awareness of refugees' plight as a UNICEF ambassador. In 2012, the NBA recognized these and many other efforts with its J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, given to only one player a season. He recently was named one of ten finalists for the NBA's Community Assist Award, and fans can vote for him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram by typing #NBACommunityAssist and #PauGasol. 

Each year, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's site complete a "'knowledge exchange" project designed to foster communication among the general public, academic researchers, and population health practitioners. As someone who grew up in Los Angeles, I cheered for Pau during his seven seasons with the Lakers but admired him just as much for what he did beyond the game. For my project this year, I wanted to interview Pau about his and Marc's plans because it seemed the Gasol Foundation's goals dovetailed with those of RWJF's Culture of Health initiative in many respects.

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If Victor Cruz Tells Us to Eat Our Veggies, Will Kids Listen?

Apr 8, 2015, 9:30 AM, Posted by John R. Lumpkin

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is proud to be a part of the new FNV campaign, using lessons from the marketing industry to make the healthy choice the easy and cool choice by promoting fruits and vegetables.

As my colleague Alonzo Plough recently pointed out, food and beverage marketing to kids is a big deal. Companies spend billions of dollars a year on advertising to reach young people everywhere they are: watching TV, playing digital games and using apps, and connecting to friends and family on social media―the ways to catch their attention seem to grow day by day.

Companies spend billions of dollars because marketing works. Ads can influence the foods and beverages children prefer, purchase, and consume. Even parents can have a hard time seeing through marketing.

That’s why I’m so excited about the launch of FNV.

I was recently at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit where FNV (which stands for fruits and vegetables) was unveiled—a campaign to put the same promotional muscle behind fruits and veggies as other companies put behind soda, candy, and potato chips.

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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.


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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