The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced it will commit at least $500 million over the next five years to tackle one of the most urgent public health threats facing our nation: childhood obesity.
This is the largest commitment by any foundation to this issue. The Foundation’s goal is to reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States by 2015.
During the past four decades, obesity rates have soared among all age groups, more than quadrupling among children ages 6 to 11. Today, more than 33 percent of children and adolescents — approximately 25 million kids — are overweight or obese.
Preventing obesity during childhood is critical, because habits that last into adulthood frequently are formed during youth. Research shows that overweight adolescents have up to an 80 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. Earlier onset of obesity leads to the earlier onset of related illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer.
In addition to the toll on our nation’s health, obesity also poses a tremendous financial threat to our economy and our health care system. It’s estimated that the obesity epidemic costs our nation $117 billion per year in direct health care costs and lost productivity. Childhood obesity alone carries a huge price tag — up to $14 billion per year in direct health care costs to treat kids.
“This is an all-American crisis,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of RWJF. “It affects all Americans, and it will require all of America working together to turn it around. Our commitment is a call to action for families, schools, government, industry, health care and philanthropy. To reverse the obesity epidemic and create a culture of health, we must provide families with better access to healthy choices.”
The Foundation will focus on improving access to affordable healthy foods and opportunities for safe physical activity in schools and communities. It will place special emphasis on reaching children at greatest risk for obesity and related health problems: African-American, Latino, Native American, Asian American and Pacific Islander children living in low-income communities.
“Individual choice and behavior are important, but the world we live in plays a big role, too. We have to make it easier for kids to eat well and move more,” said Lavizzo-Mourey. “That means more parks and safe places for kids to play, more grocery stores that stock affordable fresh produce, and improved school policies on nutrition and physical education. With this new commitment, we hope to foster more of these changes that will make it easier for families to raise healthy kids.”