Princeton, N.J.―Recognizing that obesity remains one of the biggest threats to the health of our children, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) today announced it will commit $500 million over the next ten years to expand efforts to ensure that all children in the United States—no matter who they are or where they live―can grow up at a healthy weight. Building on a $500 million commitment made in 2007, the nation’s largest health philanthropy will have dedicated more than $1 billion to reversing the childhood obesity epidemic. Encouraged by recent signs of progress in turning rates around, RWJF views this investment as critical to building a Culture of Health in communities across the United States.
With this new $500 million pledge, RWJF signals its commitment to expand and accelerate that progress, with an intensified focus on those places and populations hardest hit by the epidemic. New work will advance strategies that help eliminate health disparities that contribute to higher obesity rates among children of color and children living in poverty across the United States. The Foundation also announced an expanded focus on preventing obesity in early childhood and on engaging parents, youth and health care providers to be active champions for healthier communities and schools.
Over the last decade, RWJF has been a leader in supporting nationwide efforts to change policies and school and community environments in ways that make the healthy choice the easy choice for children and families. Working in partnership with other funders and leaders in a variety of sectors, key initiatives enabled schools nationwide to transform their campuses into healthier places for kids and helped communities expand access to nutritious foods and safe places to be active. States and cities ranging from California to Mississippi, and New York City to Anchorage, Alaska, have begun reporting declining childhood obesity rates.
“By 2025, we want to ensure that children in America grow up at a healthy weight, no matter who they are or where they live,” said RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD. “We have made substantial progress, but there is far more to do and we can’t stop now. This commitment is part of the Foundation’s effort to build a Culture of Health in every community across the country. We all have a role to play in our homes, schools, and neighborhoods to ensure that all kids have healthy food and safe places to play.”
Building on work the Foundation has implemented previously, RWJF will support research, action and advocacy strategies focused on the following priorities over the next decade:
- Ensure that all children enter kindergarten at a healthy weight.
- Make a healthy school environment the norm and not the exception across the United States.
- Make physical activity a part of the everyday experience for children and youth.
- Make healthy foods and beverages the affordable, available, and desired choice in all neighborhoods and communities.
- Eliminate the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among 0-5 year olds.
This new $500 million commitment represents a major investment in the Foundation’s broader effort to build a nationwide Culture of Health that enables all in our diverse society to lead healthier lives, now and for generations to come. Integral to building a strong Culture of Health is helping all children achieve and maintain a healthy weight to give them the strongest start toward a healthy future. This will require greater collaboration among businesses, government, individuals, and organizations to create communities that offer ample opportunities for parents and kids to make choices that help them live the healthiest lives possible.
RWJF’s new commitment follows a series of research reports showing progress toward reversing the childhood obesity epidemic. On a national level, childhood obesity rates have begun to level off, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also released data last year showing rates may be decreasing among the nation’s youngest children. In addition, states from California to Mississippi and cities from Anchorage to Philadelphia have reported reductions in childhood obesity rates.
But these initial reports of declines follow decades of increases. Despite the recent positive news, more than one third of young people are overweight or obese—a rate far higher than it was a generation ago. African-American and Latino youth continue to have higher obesity rates than their white peers, even in most areas reporting overall progress. Among the cities and states reporting good news on obesity, only Philadelphia has measured progress toward narrowing disparity gaps. In that city, childhood obesity rates have declined overall, and the steepest drops have been among African-American boys and Latino girls, two groups with historically high obesity rates.
“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is in this fight for the long haul to ensure that all kids grow up at a healthy weight,” said Roger S. Fine, JD, chairman of the RWJF Board of Trustees. “With this new commitment, we look forward to working with existing and new allies to realize a future in which every child can live a long, healthy life.”
Since its 2007 commitment, RWJF has funded numerous efforts to help young people eat healthier foods and be more active. It helped the Healthy Schools Program of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation grow from supporting 231 schools in 2006 to now more than 26,000 schools that are transforming their campuses into healthier places where healthy foods and physical activity are available before, during and after school. It created Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, a national program supporting community change efforts that made healthy eating and active living the easy choice in 50 sites across the country and served as a model for later federal funding. The Foundation also has funded independent evaluations of significant commitments by the food and beverage industry, which demonstrated progress by major companies to cut 6.4 trillion calories from the marketplace.
In addition to work by RWJF and its grantees, the last several years have seen a building national movement to address childhood obesity. First Lady Michelle Obama has made a significant commitment to solving the challenge of childhood obesity through her Let’s Move! initiative. Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act with a bipartisan vote in 2010, paving the way for the first significant update to school nutrition standards in 15 years and laying the groundwork for broader policy changes. Food, beverage, and fitness industry leaders, as well as many others, have made changes to their products and practices in order to better support children’s health. As progress continues and expands, sustained action across sectors will be essential to creating a healthier future for children.
About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are striving to build a national Culture of Health that will enable all to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.