Target: Childhood Obesity

Perhaps throwing money at a problem really can make it better.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation clearly thinks so, because yesterday they pledged $500 million over the next five years to help fight childhood obesity.

Obesity among kids and teenagers is, as you probably know, one of this country's fastest-growing epidemics. Currently some 25 million kids—or one-third of all children and teens—are overweight or obese. Worse still, even babies are now fatter than before.

If it sounds ambitious, it is. According to the New York Times, it's the largest public health initiatives ever tried by a private philanthropy. But it's not the first time the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has made a significant difference in the American lifestyle habits.

Throughout the 1990s and early part of this decade, the foundation contributed more than $400 million to help reduce smoking. Fewer people smoke today and the organization will bring those lessons into this battle.

After reviewing a few of their strategies, I have to say that I'm excited by their realistic approach. They've posted an overview on their website.

For instance, statistics show that obesity is particularly problematic for poor or underprivileged families, partly because they can't necessarily make better choices. When streets and playgrounds aren't safe enough, kids spend more time watching TV, which is directly linked to obesity. Also, access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited in poorer neighborhoods.

The RWJ Foundation plans to:

  • Encourage supermarket chains to return or open in poorer neighborhoods.
  • Invest in a variety of programs to promote access to healthy foods.
  • Encourage and fund safer play areas for kids
  • Donate money to research
  • Change laws and policies, such as banning sugary or unhealthy snacks from school vending machines or making it physical education a mandatory part of the school day.

It will probably take years before the tide turns. But this initiative is sure to put the spotlight on the problem.

And, most likely, they'll provide real opportunities so that everyone can make better choices for their health.

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