Our experiences and environments (physical, social, and emotional) in childhood are critical to health and well-being throughout our lives. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) acknowledges that many children lack access to necessities for a healthy life, such as nutritious foods. As part of their commitment to building a national Culture of Health, RWJF supports programs that address these disparities and help all children grow up at a healthy weight.
Healthy Eating Research (HER) has a dual focus on building the evidence to improve nutrition and diet quality, and reducing child obesity. We hope to achieve these dual goals with an emphasis on promoting equity.
Preventing Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity is one of the most urgent health challenges of our time. Children with obesity are less likely to have healthy lives because they are at higher risk for a host of serious chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, asthma, and certain types of cancer. Over the past decade, children with obesity have been increasingly diagnosed with health problems previously considered to be “adult” illnesses, such as Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
For over ten years, HER and RWJF have been committed to reversing the childhood obesity epidemic and helping all children in the United States ― no matter who they are or where they live ― grow up at a healthy weight.
The Importance of Diet Quality
Beyond reducing child obesity, we also strive to improve dietary intake and eating patterns that impact a wider variety of children’s short-term and long-term health outcomes. Optimal nutrition is critical for a healthy pregnancy and positive birth outcomes, as well as infant, child, and adolescent physical development, cognitive development, early learning, and academic success. Not to mention, children’s short- and long-term health including a healthy weight and prevention of chronic diseases.
Achieving optimal nutrition or diet quality may look slightly different for each individual, but the concept is grounded in the ability to consume a diversified, balanced, and healthy eating pattern, which provides all the essential nutrients for growth and development and a healthy and active life. In doing such, we are moving away from a single focus on calories, as this alone is not related to good health. Rather, we are interested in improving eating patterns and dietary intakes within an appropriate calorie level to be more aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. We are also interested in how individual’s food and beverage choices are impacted by larger policies, systems, and environments.
An Equity Focus
Achieving optimal physical, social, and emotional health for all children is the overarching goal, but many children in the U.S. have inadequate nutrition, poor diet quality, and are overweight or obese. This is most pronounced in lower-income and certain ethnic and racial households who may lack access to healthy and affordable foods in their communities. These children may grow up in homes with limited funds to buy, or time to prepare, healthful foods. Plus, they often live in neighborhoods surrounded by inexpensive and heavily marketed unhealthy foods and beverages. All children deserve the right to a healthy diet.