This commentary by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey and Senior Vice President and Director, Health Group, Jim Marks reflects on the findings from “Obesity and Severe Obesity among Students in the School District of Philadelphia: Prevalence, Disparities, and Trends, 2006-2010.”

The latest report from Philadelphia shows the city achieving an overall decline in obesity, as well as making improvements among African American male and Hispanic female student rates of obesity. Additionally, Philadelphia reports significant reduction in obesity rates among students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

The study’s authors describe several school-based policies and programs, both at the state level and in the School District of Philadelphia, that may have contributed to the declining rates, including:

  • nutrition education for students and parents eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) in Pennsylvania;
  • a district policy that removed sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks from school vending machines and set standards for snacks sold in vending machines and a la carte lines;
  • a district-wide, comprehensive School Wellness Policy with further provisions for competitive foods, as well as for physical activity and nutrition education;
  • free breakfast for all students in the district;
  • the decision to stop using fryers for cooking; and
  • a switch from 2% milk to 1% low-fat milk in the district.

A recent report from The Institute of Medicine, “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention” notes that the science on obesity prevention has matured, and that society can use this strong evidence to reverse the epidemic. Lavizzo-Mourey and Marks note that the results from Philadelphia support the IOM’s report, demonstrating that using what we know can lead to change.

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