It’s unusual to find good news about obesity here in the United States.
That’s because it’s an epidemic that affects millions of Americans and is estimated to cost as much as $210 billion in preventable health care spending each year. It’s fueled by an abundance of junk food, fast food and sugary drinks that are easier to find, cheaper to buy and advertised more often than healthier, fresher foods and drinks. Neighborhoods that lack sidewalks, parks, safe streets and playgrounds contribute to the challenge. Southern states, communities of color and people living in poverty have been hit especially hard.
But there are bright spots. Some places are actually reporting good news. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Signs of Progress collection highlights places that have a measured a decline in childhood obesity rates and shares stories from people who are making a difference in their own cities and towns.
Last week, RWJF added four new reports to its growing collection of places with declining rates: the greater St. Cloud region of Minnesota; Cherokee County, South Carolina; Southern California; and Colorado.
RWJF also shared new reports from New Mexico, Philadelphia, and Seminole County, Florida, showing that their declining trends have continued for another year. In total, there are reports from more than 30 states, cities, counties or districts nationwide.
Each community has a unique story. But there are some common themes.
Strong leadership. A local organization that’s focused on helping families make healthy choices can spark a movement. For 10+ years, CentraCare Health, a nonprofit health care system in St. Cloud, Minnesota, has led Better Living: Exercise and Nutrition Daily (BLEND), a collaborative initiative that brings government agencies, schools, community groups and advocates together in support of Safe Routes to School projects, nutrition labeling in grocery stores and schools, pedestrian-friendly streets, and school wellness policies.
Healthy schools. We need to find more ways to offer—and encourage kids to try—nutritious foods, snacks, and drinks and a variety of physical activities before, during and after school. In Cherokee County, South Carolina, schools are building and using gardens to teach young students about healthy eating. And all YMCA’s in South Carolina have adopted Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards in their afterschool programs to ensure kids have healthy snacks and drinks, at least 30 minutes of exercise and no screen time.
Diverse partners. Everyone has a role to play when it comes to helping kids grow up at a healthy weight. In Southern California, Kaiser Permanente partnered with the city of Whittier, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, the National Parent Teacher Association, and many local organizations to offer a range of community programs that aim to help kids eat healthier and be more active. Since 2004, their collective efforts have resulted in new, safe walking and biking routes, better access to affordable healthy foods, cleaner, safer parks and more afterschool programs for children and teens.
Local heroes. Each one of us can make a difference. High-school freshman Analaura Amezquita designed the winning logo for Healthy Picks, a program that encourages corner stores in Whittier, California, to stock and promote healthier items. She spends weekends at the stores explaining the program to shoppers, got her school to adopt the program on campus, and is leading efforts to start healthy school fundraising events. Physiology students at Gaffney High School coach younger kids during Super Saturdays, family-friendly field day events that promote healthy living. The coaches lead kids and their families in ultimate frisbee, insane dodgeball, relays, nutrition education games and other activities.
These #SignsofProgress are inspiring. We can and should learn from what’s happening in these communities—and take that knowledge to scale—because every child deserves a healthy future.