Faith-Based Coalitions to Combat Childhood Obesity

    • January 11, 2009

In a new multimillion-dollar initiative, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has joined with 21 faith-based coalitions across the country to prevent childhood obesity by increasing access to healthy foods and physical activity through community advocacy.

The Foundation awarded $4.8 million to help these diverse groups advance policy and environmental changes in the towns and cities they serve. The grants recognize the growing role that alliances of churches, mosques, synagogues and other faith groups play in addressing critical public issues like the obesity epidemic. (See full list. )

The grants also reflect the impressive legacy of such organizations’ work to improve social and health conditions around them. Given the gravity of the epidemic, and the added threat posed by today’s harsh economic downturn, the 21 coalitions are welcome partners in the Foundation’s efforts to reverse childhood obesity by 2015.

“The immense challenge we face in reversing the trend of childhood obesity is a shared responsibility. All parts of society must be engaged if we are going to succeed,” said Dwayne C. Proctor, director of RWJF’s Childhood Obesity Team. “We called upon the faith-based community to help us meet our challenge, and not surprisingly, this community responded strongly.”

RWJF received nearly 100 proposals, with ideas ranging from “edible playgrounds” to incentives to bring grocery stores back into targeted communities. The coalitions awarded the two-year grants of up to $225,000 represent 18 states and one U.S. territory. Seven states are located in the South, the region with the country’s highest prevalence of obesity.

The Foundation places a special emphasis on reaching children at greatest risk of obesity: African-American, Latino, Native American, Asian-American and Pacific Islander children and children living in low-income neighborhoods or neighborhoods that have limited access to affordable healthy foods and safe places to play. Although most of the coalitions selected will work in urban communities, several projects in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia will seek to make positive changes in rural communities.

Among the projects are:

  • Raleigh, N.C., where faith-based youth groups in five counties will learn how to engage in community change around fitness and nutrition issues.
  • Hartford, Conn., where churches will form partnerships with community vendors and retailers to create sustainable access to fresh produce.
  • San Diego, where faith leaders, youth and promotoras (special Latino outreach workers) will work to improve the safety, aesthetics and physical structures of playgrounds and parks.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has committed $500 million over five years to reverse the epidemic in the United States by 2015. The Foundation’s strategies emphasize building the evidence about what measures prevent childhood obesity; engaging partners at the local, state and national level and promoting the most promising approaches; and supporting advocacy to educate policy-makers and leaders about the best solutions to increasing active living and healthy eating.

Further details, demographic information and contact names are available on each project in the faith-based initiative. By regions, they include:

Northeast—Hartford, Conn; Hatfield, Mass.; New York; Schenectady, N.Y.

Mid-Atlantic—Camden, N.J.

South—Austin, Texas; Hernando, Miss.; Nashville, Tenn.; Norfolk, Va.; Raleigh, N.C.; Richmond, Va.; Sparta, Ga.

Midwest—Chicago; Cincinnati; Kansas City, Kan.; Minneapolis.

West—Denver; Oakland, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; Seattle.


About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change.

For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime.



Hartford, Conn.
Conference of Churches
Leveraging the faith community to ensure sustainable access to fresh produce in Hartford.

Hatfield, Mass.
Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Inc.
Merging faith- and community-based advocacy for urban agriculture and affordable, nutritious food in Springfield, Mass.

New York
New York City Coalition Against Hunger
Interfaith Voices Against Hunger program advocating to end childhood obesity.

Schenectady, N.Y.
Schenectady Inner City Ministry
Safe Parks & Edible Playgrounds—A faith-based effort to advance community policies and environmental changes.


Camden, N.J.
Camden City Garden Club, Inc.
Expanding a partnership advocating community gardens in Camden to prevent childhood obesity.


Austin, Texas
Texas Impact Education Fund
Advocacy by the Interfaith Obesity Prevention Effort of Texas for a statewide agenda for children.

Hernando, Miss.
Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi
Advancing healthy environmental changes in the Mississippi Delta through a faith-based coalition of health ministries.

Nashville, Tenn.
Vanderbilt University
Creating a faith-based campaign in Middle Tennessee to increase low-income residents' access to full-service grocery stores.

Norfolk, Va.
Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, Inc.
Addressing childhood obesity via the faith community in the Western Tidewater area.

Raleigh, N.C.
Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!)
Involving faith-based youth groups in policies to create environmental changes to improve nutrition and fitness in North Carolina.

Richmond, Va.
Vernon J. Harris East End Community Health Center
Empowering African-American children in a Richmond neighborhood to achieve physical fitness and healthy behaviors.

Sparta, Ga.
St. Galilee Outreach Ministry, Inc.
Improving the availability of affordable healthy food and access to safe places to play for children in Georgia.


Children's Memorial Hospital
Chicago faith-based advocacy for policy and environmental change to prevent childhood obesity.

Center for Closing the Health Gap in Greater Cincinnati
Faith & Food—Avondale churches advocating for healthy food access policies.

Kansas City, Kan.
Rosedale Development Association, Inc.
Promoting environmental and policy changes to provide access to physical activity and healthy food for children in Rosedale.


University of Colorado at Denver
Increasing healthy eating and active living for children and youth in the Westwood neighborhood of Denver.

Oakland, Calif.
Healthy Communities, Inc.
Solidifying a faith-based collaborative for healthy food access in Alameda County.

Portland, Ore.
Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon
Developing and promoting a model congregational wellness policy to help combat childhood obesity in Oregon.

San Diego
San Diego State University Research Foundation
Training faith and community leaders to assess the built environment and advocate activity-friendly improvements.

Center for MultiCultural Health
Engaging Youth in Action! teams in stimulating communities to fight childhood obesity in Seattle/King County.


Guam SDA Ypao Church of the Guam Micronesia Missions
Guam Sustantia Project—Advocating policy change to improve access to nutritious and affordable food and safe places to walk and play.