A Billion Dollars to Fight Childhood Obesity

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation spends big in this battle.

Mom and child on playground slide
Images by Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

In 2007, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) committed $500 million to combat childhood obesity. In February 2015, the foundation announced it would add another $500 million to its research, action, and advocacy efforts to "ensure that all children in the United States—no matter who they are or where they live—can grow up at a healthy weight." First Lady Michelle Obama joined the event marking the new funding announcement, which coincides with the five-year anniversary of Mrs. Obama's Let's Move campaign.

"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 in a statement. To achieve that, the foundation will focus on preventing obesity in early childhood and on helping parents (that's you!); kids and teens; and health care providers become champions for healthier communities and schools.

Spending Priorities

The new $500 million in funding will go to projects that strive to:

  • Make a healthy school environment the norm across the United States. That could mean healthier food choices (in and out of the cafeteria), more physical activity all day (not just during PE and recess, although those are important and need continued support), and more active commuting to school (such as walking or bicycling). Does your school have a wellness committee? It should!
  • Make physical activity a part of the everyday experience for children and youth. This might mean working to make neighborhoods safer, so kids can play outside and walk or bike to school. It could also mean making youth sports more accessible to more kids.
  • Make healthy foods and beverages the affordable, available, and desired choice in all neighborhoods and communities. Right now, too many families can't buy healthy foods (like fresh produce) because they can't afford them, and junk food and fast food is too readily available and is heavily marketed to kids and teens.
  • Eliminate the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among kids 5 years old and under. Water needs to be the default choice—not soda and juice drinks that contain added sugar.

"We have made substantial progress, but there is far more to do and we can't stop now," said Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey. "This commitment is part of the Foundation's effort to build a Culture of Health in every community across the country. We all have a role to play in our homes, schools, and neighborhoods to ensure that all kids have healthy food and safe places to play."

In her remarks at the event, the First Lady praised the RWJF for its leadership: "I think it’s fair to say that by investing $500 million in this issue back [in 2007], RWJF wasn’t just stepping on the bandwagon, they were building the bandwagon pretty much from scratch. But they did this because they understood the science, and they realized that this issue wasn’t just undermining our kids’ health, it was undermining the health of our economy. It was affecting the productivity of our workforce.

It was costing us billions of dollars in health care expenses," she said.

Now, the foundation understands "that in many ways, the progress we’ve made is fragile, and we are nowhere near finished," said Mrs. Obama. Let's hope $500 million more buys a lot more progress on behalf of kids' health.

Continue Reading