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Signs of Progress Highlight of Voices for Healthy Kids Kickoff Event


While most of the nation struggled to get a grasp on the childhood obesity epidemic between 2006 and 2010, rates of obesity among Philadelphia schoolchildren dropped by nearly 5 percent.

Halfway across the country in Kearney, Neb., school district officials decided to find ways to help the nearly four in 10 students who were overweight or obese get healthy. After creating a culture of health and wellness in schools, district officials reported a 13.4 percent decline in obesity rates in grades K-5.

And in Eastern Massachusetts, groundbreaking community-based and statewide programs and projects led to a 21.4 percent decrease in obesity rates for children under 6.

The American Heart Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation officially kicked off their joint Voices for Healthy Kids initiative on Tuesday with an event studying cities and states that have reported Signs of Progress in reducing childhood obesity.

More than 750 childhood obesity advocates — including more than 500 folks who took part via webcast — heard from leaders from four states and five cities or counties that have seen at least small decreases in obesity rates, providing inspiration for the collaborative’s goal of reversing the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States by 2015.  

“We can actually see that relentless rise in childhood obesity for 30 years is halting,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, RWJF’s president and CEO. “And we’re starting to see an actual decline… when I see that, I’m thrilled because it tells me we can reverse this epidemic.”

Lavizzo-Mourey co-hosted the event alongside Nancy Brown, the CEO of the American Heart Association, at the National Capital YMCA in downtown Washington. In addition to leading panel discussions on obesity, Brown also announced that six organizations that have received funding to head teams working toward reducing obesity in six key issue areas:

  • Foods in Schools: The Pew Charitable Trusts will oversee efforts to help states ensure that all foods served in U.S. schools are healthy. With a long history of informing policy, Pew will support states in improving the nutrition of meals, snacks and beverages available to students across the country.
  • Healthy Drinks: The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity will aim to reduce kids’ consumption of sugary drinks. Rudd will expand and share its research and educational tools to ensure children have better access to healthy beverages and less access to beverages filled with unnecessary empty calories.
  • Marketing Matters: As a co-convener of the Food Marketing Work Group, Berkeley Media Studies Group is focusing on protecting children from the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks. They bring a network of 125 organizations dedicated to eliminating harmful food marketing, particularly aimed at those most vulnerable to obesity.
  • Food Access: The Food Trust already has a proven track record for increasing access to affordable healthy foods. They bring years of expertise in increasing healthy foods available in stores through healthy food financing initiatives and creating and implementing healthy in-store marketing policies in supermarkets and corner stores.
  • Active Places: The Safe Routes to School National Partnership will continue to lead the way in increasing access to safe spaces for physical activity. The National Partnership brings together more than 650 national, state and local organizations and networks to advance policies and programs that increase access to parks, playgrounds, walking paths, bike lanes and other opportunities to be physically active.
  • Active Kids Out of School: As the largest nonprofit provider of quality afterschool programs, the YMCA of the USA is a strong advocate for healthy childcare in out of school settings. The YMCA is helping increase children’s activity levels by leading efforts with the Healthy Out of School Time Coalition to engage providers across the country to adopt healthy living standards.

Speakers at the event offered an array of experiences and perspectives, and included policymakers, physicians, health advocates, a school official, a preacher and even a four-time PGA Tour winner.  Brown moderated a panel of state leaders from New Mexico, California, West Virginia and Mississippi, while Lavizzo-Mourey oversaw a discussion of leaders from Philadelphia, Anchorage, Alaska, Kearney, Neb., and Granville and Vance Counties, NC.

The two wrapped up the day by co-moderating a discussion with Chip Johnson, the mayor of Hernando, Miss., and Tom Farley, the health commissioner of New York City.

One of the most enthusiastic speakers of the day was the Rev. Michael Minor, who introduced himself as the “Southern pastor who banned fried chicken in my church.” The national director of H.O.P.E HHS Partnership, National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., Minor has played an active role in faith-based health and wellness mobilization across Mississippi.

Minor focuses on research, partnership and training when helping parishioners get healthy (and then help others do the same). The effort is working, he said. “We’re literally adding, every month, hundreds of people who want to come in and get training,” Minor said.

Dr. Jamie Jeffrey, a pediatrician from West Virginia who has become an active leader in the state’s obesity movement, noted that she has found involving children and young people in the development of obesity-related health initiatives will lead to success.

“It’s amazing what the little boogers want,” she said, drawing laughter. “It’s easy. They tell you [that] you just have to make it fun.”

Click here to visit the new Voices for Healthy Kids website, and be sure to follow the collaborative on Twitter as we all work together to take the lessons learned on Tuesday and use them to spread success across the country.