Each week, our own Zach Brooks speaks with a Leader to get a quick look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part? Visit Zach’s profile and contact him.
In addition to being the new deputy director of Leadership for Healthy Communities, Nikki Daruwala is a mother, so she understands firsthand how healthy environments can benefit her family. In her work, Daruwala aims to create healthy policies across the country that will improve communities.
Name: Nikki Daruwala, M.S.
Title: Deputy Director
Organization: Leadership for Healthy Communities, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?
As a parent, I know that being a good role model means teaching my kids to make healthy food choices and be physically active. We’ve been fortunate to live in neighborhoods that have plenty of safe places to play and exercise and supermarkets that have healthy foods. But too many families still live in places where this isn’t the case. That’s why I’m working to promote policies that improve health where we all live, learn, work and play. You can connect with us on Twitter and Facebook.
How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?
Leadership for Healthy Communities is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that supports local and state policy-makers nationwide in their efforts to reduce childhood obesity. We are currently working with six policy-maker associations: American Association of School Administrators, Local Government Commission, National Association of County and City Health Officials, National Conference of State Legislatures, U.S. Conference of Mayors and Women in Government.
Our focus is on supporting public policies that promote active living, healthy eating and greater access to healthy affordable foods. We also place a special emphasis on promoting policies with the greatest potential for increasing opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating among children at highest risk for obesity, including low-income and communities of color.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?
I’m really proud of the work we have done to highlight the importance of local and state leadership in promoting strong public policies to increase healthy eating and active living, and the impact these policies have had on childhood obesity prevention.
Growing evidence suggests that states and cities, which have taken a comprehensive policy approach, are beginning to see declines in obesity rates among children. New York City, Philadelphia, California and Mississippi have seen declining childhood obesity rates after making strong, far-reaching policy changes. I think it’s important to look at what has worked at the local and state level, and to consider how those policies can be used successfully nationwide.
But we certainly have more work to do. Despite these signs of progress, socioeconomic, geographic, and racial and ethnic disparities in childhood obesity rates still persist. We must continue to address the health disparities that exist among underserved communities and populations.
Who is your role model in your work?
I find daily inspiration from the people and organizations who are working to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic. There are so many people, including grassroots advocates, public health professionals, and local, state and federal policy-makers who are dedicated to making sure our kids have access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity at home and at school.
What game or sport did you play growing up?
Growing up, I enjoyed competitive sports—I ran track and hurdles— and less formal activities. I often played “street games” with friends around the neighborhood. In fact, I was the queen of hopscotch on my block! But I am also a professionally trained classical Indian dancer, and I started taking dance classes when I was around seven years old. Every day, I’m inspired by the work Leadership for Healthy Communities does to help ensure that children across the country have the opportunity to have as much fun as I did. No matter what it is you enjoy doing, it’s important to stay active, and we need to make sure that our children and families have safe places to play and exercise and increase opportunities for active living.