Take Action: Childhood Nutrition/Health (U.S.)

Over the last few years, high obesity rates have been making news headlines. And then this year, First Lady, Michelle Obama announced her Let's Move childhood obesity initiative. The goal of this campaign is to reverse the trend of childhood obesity in one generation so kids today can grown up healthy and well. In addition, the Childhood Nutrition Act (a federal program that that addresses the food served in schools) is up for reauthorization this year, so childhood nutrition/health is a timely and important topic in the US.

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Source: Philanthropedia

Childhood obesity prevention encourages the development of healthy eating and exercise habits in children ages 2 to 19 that will keep them from becoming overweight or obese. Addressing this issue requires holistic community initiatives that include policy and environmental changes, as well as programs that educate individuals about healthy behaviors. This report concentrates on the educational component, which enables healthy habits to be developed and sustained.

Currently, the obesity prevention field includes a variety of direct-service educational programs that can be divided between those that focus on nutrition and those dedicated to physical activity. Typically, organizations that work to improve the physical activity of children do not also work to improve their nutrition and vice versa.

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Source: Root Cause

Philanthropedia’s experts (funders, researchers, nonprofit senior staff, government officials, etc.) identified 14 top childhood nutrition/health nonprofits (out of 207 total reviewed nonprofits) making an impact at the national level. We asked experts to recommend nonprofits focused on access to healthy foods and drinks in schools, nutrition education, physical activity programs and policies in or out of schools, access to safe play spaces for kids in their communities, access to healthy and fresh foods for kids in their neighborhoods, and/or media campaigns to promote health and nutrition for kids.

These nonprofits should be primarily focused on impacting the lives of children. And these nonprofits might focus on different kinds of activities: policy, research, advocacy, direct services, education, etc. The primary focus of this research was not on food deserts, public transit, or helping local farmers or other for-profit organizations.

Source: Philanthropedia

Obesity prevention is a complex issue that requires changes at the systemic and individual levels. Therefore, a successful initiative to prevent obesity is comprised of interlocking parts that address policy, environment, and the individual. No single approach offers the definitive solution to ensure that at-risk children develop healthy habits and adopt a long-term healthy lifestyle.

SIR focused on direct service educational programs because these programs will help to improve health and longevity for individuals, generate significant health gains at a low cost, and demonstrate demand for changes in policy and environment. When considering direct service educational programs within either nutrition or physical activity, SIR recommends programs that incorporate the following components:

  • Education about healthy habits to inform children and adolescents about nutrition and physical activity
  • Experience in a healthy lifestyle that exposes children and adolescents to recommended activities
  • Outreach to parents and caregivers who can facilitate and model healthy habits

To be most effective, successful direct service educational programs should operate as part of a community initiative that is simultaneously addressing needed policy and environmental changes for a healthier community.

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Source: Root Cause


Given the importance of childhood nutrition and all the momentum at the federal level, we decided to learn more about the nonprofits that were doing the best work. Therefore, Philanthropedia surveyed 103 national childhood nutrition/health experts (with an average of 13 years of work experience in the field) to identify those organizations that were making the biggest impact in the field.

Source: Philanthropedia

There is a strong correlation between childhood and adult obesity; therefore, lower adult obesity rates are a key indicator of success in childhood obesity prevention. Obesity is defined by body mass index (BMI), a measure of a person’s weight in relation to his or her height. Because BMI does not account for body fat versus lean muscle mass, it is not a perfect measurement and often results in controversy regarding medical diagnosis. Still, using BMI to measure obesity for both children and adults is the most common system currently used.

It is important to keep in mind that environmental and policy changes are important components of addressing childhood obesity, and thus there may be additional indicators of successful childhood obesity programs. These might also include community-level indicators such as increased neighborhood access to healthy foods, or an increase in bike paths and pedestrian walkways.

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Source: Root Cause