New Jersey Childhood Obesity Study

Funded under New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids Study

Signs of Progress - Philadelphia

The Project

This program, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), provides vital information for planning and evaluating interventions aimed at preventing childhood obesity in five New Jersey municipalities. Prior anecdotal reports suggested that New Jersey has a high incidence of obesity among low-income children, but reliable data were not available. The current study provides comprehensive information on the weight status of all public school children in the five cities and identifies factors that contribute to overweight and obesity among children in these communities to guide the design of interventions.

The lead researcher for this program is Michael Yedidia, Ph.D., of the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy. The research began in May 2008 and will continue through April 2012.

About the Research

The rationale for this project is based on the premise that effective interventions for addressing childhood obesity require heretofore unavailable information on who is most at risk (locale and characteristics) and on contributing factors that can be addressed through interventions. Major objectives are to:

  • Generate population estimates of the prevalence of parent-reported obesity and overweight (BMI) among children aged 3-18 in five New Jersey cities, as well as sub-areas within each city. To the extent possible, obtain actual measured heights and weights of children from the school districts (without student identifiers) in those cities and use these data to validate and, if appropriate, improve upon the self-reported estimates.
  • Identify factors that contribute to overweight and obesity among children in these communities to guide the design of interventions, addressing such questions as: How does prevalence vary among specific age groups, gender, race-ethnicity and socio-economic status? What aspects of the physical and food environment are associated with childhood obesity? How are environmental characteristics associated with eating and exercise behaviors? How do these relationships differ among various socio-demographic groups (e.g. gender, race-ethnicity, socioeconomic status)?

Summary of Methods

The major vehicles for addressing these issues is a household survey of families with children in the five selected cities, existing data on the physical and food environment in neighborhoods in these municipalities, and de-identified measurements of heights and weights recorded at the local schools.

Products and Dissemination

A comprehensive communications strategy includes broad dissemination and discussion of the findings from the study with key stakeholders at the community and state level. Target audiences for these products include local health officials and community groups in the five studied cities; officials and staff of relevant state agencies and legislators, as well as members of the broader health policy community; childhood obesity researchers and program developers; researchers in New Jersey’s academic communities, as well as elsewhere in the country; and the foundations and other funders who seek evidence in order to target resources for effective interventions.