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Signs of Progress: Spotlight on Philadelphia

From our friends at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


In June, Inside Track let you know about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s updated collection of stories and reports from a growing number of states, cities and counties that have measured declines in their childhood obesity rates.  As part of our 7-part series, we’re excited to spotlight Philadelphia this week, which has reported a 6.5% relative decline in obesity among children in grades K-12:

The overall obesity rate among Philadelphia school children has declined over seven years. Although there was progress overall, reductions in obesity rates were larger among boys than girls, and among African-Americans and Asians than among whites and Hispanics. African-American and Asian boys in particular saw the largest declines, making Philadelphia the only city to demonstrate more progress among some children of color than among white youth. However, that progress has been uneven. In the last few years, the obesity rate among Hispanic and white girls has gone up slightly.

Philadelphia has made many positive changes over the years, and must continue them to ensure progress is reaching all children.

Get Healthy Philly—a groundbreaking public health initiative that implements policy, system, and environmental changes—is making healthy choices easier for all Philadelphians.

To improve access to healthy affordable foods, Get Healthy Philly has teamed up with the Food Trust. Together, they have:

  • Worked with more than 900 retailers—including 600+ corner stores, 30+ farmers’ markets and nearly 200 Chinese take-out restaurants—to promote healthy food sales and better access to healthy foods within the community;
  • Redeemed almost $80,000 in Philly Food Bucks, a $2 incentive for fruits and vegetables that’s offered for every $5 spent with benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at participating farmers’ markets; and
  • Awarded “Certified Healthy Corner Stores” recognition to 25 corner stores that have increased inventory in seven healthy food/beverage categories and conducted greater promotion of healthy items in stores.

Get Healthy Philly’s other notable initiatives include:

Implementing nutrition standards for all food procured by city agencies, impacting almost 64,000 Philadelphians served by venues including summer and after-school programs, supportive housing, vending machines and correctional facilities.   ​

  • Working with city and community partners to make it easier and safer for people to get active, by adopting citywide policies to promote healthy and sustainable city planning, implementing the Philadelphia Trail Master plan, launching a bike-share program and supporting low-cost safety improvements at high-crash intersections.
  • Leading media initiatives to educate and empower about public health issues, including Do You Know What Your Kids Are Drinking—a multi-media campaign seen or heard more than 40 million times—that educated caregivers about the link between sugary drinks, obesity and type 2 diabetes among children.
  • Engaging youth as leaders in health and wellness in their schools and communities through annual HYPE (Healthy You, Positive Energy) summits and the Culinary Voice cooking competition.

Philadelphia’s schools have also been deeply committed to creating a Culture of Health. The school district has:

  • Provided nutrition education to all public school students whose families are eligible for SNAP since 1999;
  • Removed all sodas and sugar-sweetened drinks from public school vending machines in 2004, making it one of the first jurisdictions in the country to do so;
  • Implemented a comprehensive, district-wide school wellness policy in 2006, including guidelines for school meals, snacks, and drinks, physical activity and nutrition education; and
  • Banned deep fryers in school kitchens, and switched from serving 2% milk to 1% and skim milk, in 2009.

Philadelphia has been at the forefront of addressing obesity for over a decade, and is an example of what’s possible when community leaders from all sectors commit to building a Culture of Health.

View the story, photos and more on the Robert Wood Johnson website.