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 achieve healthy environments for all children and their families.
Access to good nutrition, healthy foods, and opportunities to make healthful choices are key to advancing health equity. Thus, Healthy Eating Research (HER) is focused on building the evidence to advance strategies that support healthy environments for children and their families, especially in the areas of nutritional disparities, nutrition, and food security.
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. In addition, childhood obesity remains a source of significant, persistent disparities, especially among African Americans, Native Americans and Latinos.
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 quality 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.
An Equity Focus
Access to good nutrition, healthy foods, and opportunity to make healthful choices are key to advancing health equity. All children deserve the right to a healthy diet, yet many children in the U.S. have poor diet quality, food insecurity, and are overweight or obese. These children may grow up in homes with limited funds to buy, or time to prepare, healthful foods. 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. Population groups whose opportunities and social agency have been systematically and unfairly curtailed are more exposed to unhealthy and obesity-promoting environmental influences, such as inexpensive and heavily marketed unhealthy foods and beverages, and less able to avoid the associated adverse effects on eating and physical activity.