RWJ Foundation Doubles Commitment to Helping Children Grow Up at a Healthy Weight

PLAINSBORO, NJ—The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced on February 5 that it will commit another $500 million over the next decade to expand efforts in the fight against childhood obesity and ensure that all children in the United States, no matter where they live, can grow up at a healthy weight.

The national movement to address childhoold obesity has been gaining traction over the last couple of years, according to the RWJF which has worked to improve health and health care for the past 40 years. 

The health philanthropy says it's encouraged by recent signs of progress in turning obesity rates around and  "views this investment as critical to building a Culture of Health in communities across the United States," according to a press release. 

The latest $500 million commitment increases RWJF’s investment to more than $1 billion since 2007 when it pledged $500 million as well.

As "a leader in supporting nationwide efforts to change policies and school community environments in ways that make the healthy choice the easy choice for children and families," the foundation says that key initiatives have enabled schools nationwide to transform their campuses into healthier places for kids, citing several states, including the Garden State, that are starting to see a decline in childhood obesity rates.

“By 2025, we want to ensure that children in America grow up at a healthy weight, no matter who they are or where they live,” said RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD.

“We have made substantial progress, but there is far more to do and we can’t stop now. This commitment is part of the Foundation’s effort to build a Culture of Health in every community across the country.”

Building on work the Foundation has implemented previously, RWJF will support research, action and advocacy strategies focused on the following priorities over the next decade:

  • Ensure that all children enter kindergarten at a healthy weight
  • Make a healthy school environment the norm and not the exception across the United States.
  • Make physical activity a part of the everyday experience for children and youth.
  • Eliminate the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among children ages 5 and younger.
  • Make healthy foods and beverages the affordable, available, and desired choice in all neighborhoods and communities.

“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is in this fight for the long haul to ensure that all kids grow up at a healthy weight,” said Roger S. Fine, JD, chairman of the RWJF Board of Trustees.

“With this new commitment, we look forward to working with existing and new allies to realize a future in which every child can live a long, healthy life.”

For the past 8 years, RWJF has funded various programs designed to help young people eat healthier foods and be more active.

One program, the Healthy Schools Program of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, has grown from supporting 231 schools in 2006 to now more than 26,000 schools that are transforming their campuses into healthier places.

The campuses now offer both healthy food choices as well as physical activity before, during and after school. 

Through her Let’s Move! initiatiave, First Lady Michelle Obama has made a significant commitment to solving the challenge of childhood obesity.

"Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act with a bipartisan vote in 2010, paving the way for the first significant update to school nutrition standards in 15 years and laying the groundwork for broader policy changes," states RWJF.  

It added: "Food, beverage, and fitness industry leaders, as well as many others, have made changes to their products and practices in order to better support children’s health. As progress continues and expands, sustained action across sectors will be essential to creating a healthier future for children."

According to the USDA, food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. They often go hand in hand with food insecurity – when people aren’t sure where their next meal will come from.

The Supermarket News, wrote, in a 2011 report, that The Fresh Grocer, which is now closed, “Will operate a 49,000 square-foot supermarket in a food desert are [in New Brunswick] as part of a $103 million, 1.6-acre project that includes a community fitness center and 1,275-space public parking facility.”

A 2010 report by the Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit group, said NJ’s food desert problem is worse than federal government estimates, concluding that more than 924,000 NJ residents do not have access to supermarkets offering fresh fruit, vegetables, and meats.

RWJF has also helped support the Eric B. Chandler Health Center, a comprehensive community resource for health and social services located in the Hub City.

The center also serves those in need regardless of ability to pay. While its primary location is at 277 George Street, the center also has a location at the Church St. Annex, 123 Church Street; and a location inside the New Brunswick High School.

New Brunswick Public Schools has a free breakfast program. The program began during the 2013 – 2014 school year. (link to breakfast program article)

According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), which is the leading national organization working for more effective public and private policies to eradicate domestic hunger and undernutrition, school breakfast continues to make significant gains in communities across the United States.

Two new studies by FRAC were released on February 10, looked at school breakfast participation at the district, state, and national level.

During the 2013-2014 school year, an average of 11.2 million low-income children ate a healthy morning meal each day at school, an increase of 320,000 children from the previous school year, according to FRAC’s School Breakfast Scorecard on state trends and School Breakfast — Making it Work in Large Districts.

“FRAC measures School Breakfast Program participation by comparing the number of low-income children receiving school breakfast to the number of such children receiving school lunch.

By this measure, nationally 53 low-income children ate school breakfast for every 100 who also ate school lunch, an increase from the previous school year’s ratio of 52:100, and far above the 43:100 ratio of a decade earlier,” reads a FRAC news release.

Still, nearly half of low-income students in the U.S. are missing out on school breakfast.

"Research demonstrates the profound impact school breakfast has on improving nutrition and ensuring children start the day ready to learn," says the FRAC release. 

Meanwhile, not only are more children starting the day with school breakfast, but they also are eating healthier meals as a result of new nutrition standards which went into full effect in the 2013-2014 school year, according to FRAC. 

“More low-income children are eating breakfast, and a large part of this success is due to more schools and states adopting proven strategies to increase participation,” said FRAC President Jim Weill.

“FRAC’s research has shown that participation grows in schools that offer breakfast in the classroom or from ‘grab and go’ carts, or that use other creative ways to get breakfast to hungry students. The new Community Eligibility Provision to expand the program in high poverty schools also is showing promise. We know what works, and more children are eating breakfast as a result." 

Data about School participation in School Lunch (NSLP) and School Breakfast (SBP) for the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years was analyzed by state. 

On a national level, the School Breakfast Program served 320,000 more low-income children per day during the 2013-2014 school year, than in the previous school year. It provided breakfast for 11.2 million low-income children per average day.

NJ saw a 3.3% increase in the number of SBP Schools in 2013-2014, from the previous school year. 

Dave is an award-winning business reporter who has authored over 200 articles for New Brunswick Today.