$500 Million Initiative to Fight Childhood Obesity: Will it Help?

I was pleased to read today in the New York Times (Wednesday, April 4, 2007 page A10) that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation plans to spend a great deal of money over the next 5 years to “reverse the increase in childhood obesity.” From the news report it is difficult to tell exactly what the foundation intends to do- the article says that the foundation “plans to invest in programs to improve access to healthy food, encourage the development of safe play spaces, increase research to enhance understanding of obesity and prod governments into adopting policies to address the problem, among other things.” That sounds like quite an ambitious set of initiatives.

I’m not sure what I think about the foundation’s plans. Certainly we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic and we actually understand quite a bit about it. It’s genetics, cheap food, inactivity, etc. The question is whether focusing on the children in the ways the foundation intends will improve things appreciably in the long run? I do not want to seem the skeptic but I do not believe that unless we can “get to” the parents, we are not very likely to be successful in the long run; I don’t think it’s an analogous situation to childhood immunizations. Remember, the childhood obesity epidemic just mirrors what we see in the adults (60% of adults in the U.S. are overweight). Will “working on” the children change the way their parents feed them at home and when they eat out? Will it change the way the parents promote physical activities in the home setting? Maybe? Will it have any impact on what and how much the adults feed themselves and how much physical activity they engage in? Maybe?

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