As the first investment of a new $33 million initiative, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has awarded grants of up to $400,000 to nine communities across the country that will serve as leading sites for its most ambitious effort yet to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic.
Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities will support local action to increase opportunities for physical activity and access to healthy affordable foods for children and families. The goal is to catalyze policy and environmental changes that can make a lasting difference and be replicated across the country.
The program is a major part of RWJF’s five-year, $500 million commitment to reverse the epidemic in the United States by 2015. The Foundation is also focused on building the evidence about what works to prevent childhood obesity and on supporting advocacy to educate policy-makers and leaders at all levels about the best solutions.
“Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities will be a cornerstone of our work into the next decade,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., RWJF president and CEO. “This is one of the largest community-action programs ever supported by the Foundation and one that holds great potential for changing many people’s lives.”
The leading sites are urban and rural, large and small. They include Chicago; Columbia, Mo.; Louisville, Ky.; Seattle; Somerville, Mass.; Washington; and Baldwin Park, Central Valley and Oakland in California.
Through impressive partnerships of neighborhood associations and public agencies, all are pursuing an array of strategies to reshape their communities and promote active living and healthy eating—from farmers markets in public schools to community gardens and produce-stocked corner stores; from new bicycle lanes and wider sidewalks to a pedestrian-only boulevard on weekends.
The program will grow to approximately 50 communities when another round of funding is awarded late next year. Many are expected to be from a swath of southern states where childhood obesity rates are particularly high. The leading sites will then work with the new communities to share the lessons they've learned and the most effective approaches.
"The leading sites will provide the rest of the nation with clear direction on how we must change the environment around us to support our children's health," said Sarah Strunk, M.H.A., director of Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities. "The transformation of these communities will also demonstrate the power of community partnerships working toward a common vision."
The initial sites will receive four-year grants to broaden or accelerate changes already under way. In each, special emphasis is being placed on reaching children who are at greatest risk of obesity because of their income, race or ethnicity.
Seattle's partners, for example, will focus on engaging young immigrant families in four public housing developments across King County. Part of Louisville's work will concentrate on a corner store strategy in a dozen primarily African-American neighborhoods. The city of Washington plans to establish a "saturation index" of unhealthy food vendors to help tackle obesity and overweight in two lower-income wards.
But even as they are moving forward, so, too, is the next phase of Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities. RWJF has released a call for proposals for the second round of funding under the program. Next December, it will award four-year grants of up to $360,000 to about 40 communities.
The deadline for brief proposals is February 3. Partnerships from across the United States and its territories are eligible to apply. Preference will be given to applicants from communities in 15 states where the prevalence of or risk for childhood obesity is particularly high: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities is directed by Active Living by Design. For more information on this national program office, visit www.activelivingbydesign.org.