Leaders from Cities, States with Declining Childhood Obesity Rates Share Strategies for Success

    • July 9, 2013

Washington, D.C.—Representatives from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors gathered in Washington, D.C., today to highlight signs of progress in local and state efforts to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic and share strategies to address this national public health challenge.

The event was hosted by Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and American Heart Association (AHA) that works to help all young people eat healthier foods and be more active, with a goal of reversing the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States by 2015.

“These early signs of progress are extremely promising,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of RWJF. “The leaders joining us today are showing that we can reverse the childhood obesity epidemic, and that we must continue to learn from what’s happening on the ground so we can prioritize strategies that are working.”

Panelists from four states and five cities or counties that have measured declines in their childhood obesity rates discussed their successes with those in attendance. While the specifics varied for each location, the declines generally were measured since the mid-2000s and range from a 1.1 percent decline among students in grades 5, 7, and 9 in California, to a 13 percent decline among K-5 students in Mississippi. All of the locations have taken comprehensive action to address the epidemic.

“In order to see these declines replicated across the country, we have to make healthy changes in every school district, every community and every state,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of AHA. “These communities have confirmed that the childhood obesity epidemic can be reversed. As Voices for Healthy Kids begins advocacy efforts to ensure all policies support the health of young people, I’m confident there is much progress to come.”

During the keynote session, Mayor Chip Johnson of Hernando, Miss., and Tom Farley, commissioner of the New York City Health Department, talked about the strategies that have been effective in addressing the epidemic in their communities, and what the nation can do to extend those strategies to all communities.

“The epidemic of childhood obesity is a consequence of our children spending time in homes, schools, neighborhoods, and communities in which it is simply too easy to consume excess calories and too difficult to expend them,” said Farley. “To reverse this epidemic, we must create a healthier food environment for them and engineer physical activity back into their daily lives.”

“As community leaders, we have an obligation to create an atmosphere and opportunity for good health in our cities,” said Johnson. “This can be done in a variety of ways such as hosting a farmers market that makes locally grown, healthy food available to people from all parts of the community; mandating sidewalks in all new and redeveloped properties; and creating a park system to offer opportunities for recreation on a daily basis”

While the cities and states taking part in the event today have measured declines in their childhood obesity rates, the issue remains a severe problem for the nation’s health and budget. More than 23.5 million children and adolescents in the United States—nearly one out of every three young people—are overweight or obese. The medical cost of adult obesity in the United States is difficult to calculate, but estimates range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per year.

The leaders taking part in the event included:

  •  Anchorage, Alaska: Cindy Norquest, program director, Healthy Futures Alaska

The obesity rate fell from 16.8 percent in 2003-04 to 16.3 percent in 2010-11 among students in grades K, 1, 3, 5, and 7 in the Anchorage metro area, a 3 percent decline.

  • California: Veva Islas-Hooker, regional director of the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program

The obesity and overweight rate fell from 38.44 percent in 2005 to 38 percent in 2010 among California public school students in grades 5, 7, and 9, a 1.1 percent decline.

  • Granville & Vance Counties, N.C.: Lisa Harrison, Health Director, Granville and Vance Counties

The obesity and overweight rate fell from 40.1 percent in 2005 to 38.7 percent in 2009 among Granville youths ages 2 to 18, a 3.5 percent decline. The obesity and overweight rate fell from 31.9 percent in 2005 to 26.5 percent in 2009 among Vance youths ages 2 to 18, a 16.9 percent decline.

  • Kearney, Neb.: Carol Renner, associate superintendent of Kearney Public Schools

The obesity rate fell from 16.4 percent in 2006 to 14.2 percent in 2011 among Kearney public school students in grades K-5, a 13.4 percent decline.

  • Mississippi: Mayor Chip Johnson of Hernando, Miss., and Rev. Michael Minor, national director, H.O.P.E. HHS Partnership, National Baptist Convention, USA

The obesity and overweight rate fell from 43 percent in the spring of 2005 to 37.3 percent in the spring of 2011 among Mississippi public school students in grades K-5, a 13.3 percent decline.

  • New Mexico: Notah Begay III, four-time PGA Tour winner and founder, Notah Begay III (NB3) Foundation

The obesity rate fell from 22.6 percent in 2010 to 21.4 percent in 2012 among New Mexico public school students in grade 3, a 5.3 percent decline.

  • New York City: Dr. Thomas Farley, commissioner of the New York City Health Department

The obesity rate fell from 21.9 percent in 2006-07 to 20.7 percent in 2010-11 among New York City public school students in grades K-8, a 5.5 percent decline.

  • Philadelphia: Dr. Giridhar Mallya, director of policy and planning, Philadelphia Department of Public Health

The obesity rate fell from 21.5 percent in 2006-07 to 20.5 percent in 2009-10 among Philadelphia public school students ages 5 to 18, a 4.7 percent decline. The most significant declines were reported among African American males and Hispanic females.

  • West Virginia: Dr. Jamie Jeffrey, medical director of the Children's Medical Center & Healthy Kids Pediatric Weight Management Program at Charleston Area Medical Center  

The obesity rate fell from 30.5 percent in 2005-06 to 27.8 percent in 2011-12 among West Virginia public school students in grade 5, an 8.6 percent decline.

Eastern Massachusetts also has recently reported a decline—obesity rates among children ages 6 and under fell from 9.8 percent in 2004 to 7.7 percent in 2008, a 21.4 percent decline. Learn more about all of the locations seeing signs of progress at www.rwjf.org/goto/signsofprogress.


About Voices for Healthy Kids

Voices for Healthy Kids is a national advocacy initiative focused on uniting the movement to prevent childhood obesity. A collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and American Heart Association, the initiative seeks to help reverse the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic by 2015 by ensuring children have access to healthy foods and beverages, as well as safe opportunities for physical activity. Learn more about the childhood obesity epidemic and how you can help turn it around at voicesforhealthykids.org.

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 health and health care, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, measurable, and timely change. In 2007, the Foundation committed $500 million toward its goal of reversing the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015. This is the largest commitment any foundation has made to the issue. For more than 40 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. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.

About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – America’s No. 1 and No. 4 killers. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-800-AHA-USA1, visit heart.org or call any of our offices around the country.


Media Contacts

Melissa Blair

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-5937

Additional Media Contact: Suzette Harris

(214) 706-1207