case study

Igniting a Movement to Reverse Childhood Obesity

Two kids with their backpacks on leaving a school.

The Challenge

Obesity is one of the biggest threats to our nation’s health, healthcare system, economy and future. A third of children are overweight or obese, and research suggests this may be the first generation of Americans to live shorter, sicker lives than their parents.

For decades, we’ve been living in a society that fuels obesity. Unhealthy foods and sugary drinks are cheaper, more available and more advertised than fresh, nutritious choices. We’ve engineered physical activity out of our daily lives, and many families can’t walk, bike or play safely where they live. Reversing the childhood obesity epidemic calls for a long-term strategy that works across childcare centers, schools, communities and businesses to make sweeping changes that will help all kids eat healthy and be active.

Our Approach

Since 2007, Burness has helped the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announce more than $1 billion in commitments to help all children in America grow up at healthy weight. We have worked with RWJF to develop and execute a comprehensive engagement and communication strategy in support of that goal.

We have developed messaging around critical issues, trained key leaders, coordinated briefings and supported major events, including with First Lady Michelle Obama and President Clinton. We have released countless studies and reports that consistently garner significant media coverage in major national outlets, including the New York TimesWall Street Journal, Washington Post, Fortune, Time and Vox. We have shared these reports with national, state and local policymakers—and helped RWJF and its grantees testify before Congress.

Results and Impact

Burness has helped RWJF successfully release some of the most groundbreaking studies in the field regarding the quality of school foods and beverages; food marketing to children; access to healthy food; and physical activity in our nation’s schools and in communities nationwide. These studies have served as the building blocks for policy development at the local, state and national level. We also have collaborated with RWJF, its grantees and leaders across diverse sectors to create demand and organize support for these and other key policy priorities.

The events, webinars, message trainings, briefings and meetings we have supported over the last decade have helped educate and inform thousands of people and dozens of organizations on the front lines of policy change about what’s working to help kids be healthier. Collectively, these efforts have helped ignite and sustain a powerful national movement.

We are starting to see change. Millions of kids now have healthier school meals and snacks every day. Consumers will soon have more nutrition information so they can make healthier choices in restaurants. There is a national healthy food financing initiative focused on increasing access to healthy, affordable foods. And communities are passing complete streets policies to make it safer for people to walk and bike. Addressing childhood obesity is now a priority for communities nationwide, and people are working together across sectors and geographies to help kids be healthy.

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