An initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Meeting the Moment

Learning From Leaders at the Forefront of Change

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November 15th, 2022


Dear friends,

As the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) evolves our work to prevent childhood obesity, our annual report focuses on the following areas:

  • Improving Our Health Data
  • Creating Communities of Opportunity
  • Building Equitable Food Systems
  • Advancing Priority Policies

As I reflect on what we’ve learned and what lies ahead, I’m so grateful for partners, advocates, and leaders like you. It is you who lead the way. It is you who we at RWJF are looking to, to help us as we evolve our work to prevent childhood obesity and expand opportunities for health. And because you are at the helm of this effort, this year’s report focuses on insights from community leaders and researchers like you whose lived experiences and expertise are inspiring us and guiding our thinking.

I hope the stories and thinking within this report inform and inspire your work as they have done mine.

In partnership,
Jamie Bussel
Senior Program Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Mother embracing her daughter in a large open field

Improving Our Health Data

Why we're looking beyond body mass index for better measures to assess health.
Health is More than Weight
For decades, we've relied on BMI (body mass index), a simple ratio of height and weight, to tell us who is healthy and who is not. It's time to acknowledge the limits of BMI in assessing individual health and how our over-reliance on it has caused harm to the children and adults we're trying to help. In this expert perspective, Vanderbilt's Ted Fischer and Tatiana Paz Lemus explain why we must move beyond a weight-centered view of health.
Learn more about the shortcomings of BMI
Creating New Types of Data
This research highlight outlines new research efforts RWJF is pursuing to examine important issues that factor into children's health. They include producing new science on food policy and food retail markets, as well as exploring how social and economic programs impact child obesity and nutrition security. These grants will help shape the Foundation's strategies for supporting children's health and make valuable data on food and nutrition more available to those who influence key policies and programs.
Learn more about these grants

Creating Communities of Opportunity

How local leaders are designing policies and programs that promote nutrition security, economic inclusion, and racial justice.
Putting Health at the Center of Food Policy
Vermont is a rural state with an economy largely dependent on agriculture. But many Vermonters, especially those with lower incomes, cannot access locally grown foods. University of Vermont's Amy Trubek and Rebecca Mitchell are on a mission to change that. In this expert perspective, they describe what they're testing and learning as they work toward policy solutions that will expand access to nutritious foods—particularly fruits and vegetables—for kids across their state.
Read more about Vermont's efforts to help families access healthy foods
Healing the Land and the People
This community story profiles James and Joyce Skeet, who started Spirit Farm on the Navajo Nation to rebuild broken food systems and reconnect to Indigenous wisdom. Now, Spirit Farm aims to teach a sustainable way of life by helping Native people grow their own healthy food again. Sharing knowledge of traditional farming and spiritual practices with young people in their community is key to healing the land and teaching others to grow food as medicine.
Learn more about the healing power of Indigenous regenerative agriculture

Building Equitable Food Systems

Redistributing decision-making power is a critical step in ensuring that our food supply meets our nation's diverse health and cultural needs.
Powering Local Food Systems
Diana Rivera comes from a family of farmers in the Philippines. Through her work with the Vital Village Networks, she is helping to build capacity among emerging leaders across the U.S. who are developing innovative strategies to support small farmers and strengthen their local food systems. In this expert perspective, Diana draws connections between her upbringing and current work, and makes the case that those closest to the challenge are also closest to the solution.
Read more about how redistributing power in food systems connects to health equity
Vital Village Networks: Community Food Systems Fellowship
Through its Community Food Systems Fellowship, Vital Village Networks is creating opportunities for local leaders who are committed to justice, equity, and improving their food systems to better promote health. This grantee spotlight profiles fellows who are based around the country and work in diverse ways to redesign systems that meet people's needs, from farm and factory workers to every child who eats a school lunch.
Meet the Vital Village Network Community Food Systems Fellows

Advancing Priority Policies

We must make every effort to put the needs and health of children and families at the forefront of these key federal policies.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
SNAP is the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program, helping roughly 40 million people afford food. SNAP is proven to increase food security, improve children’s health and academic performance, support economic growth, and lift people out of poverty.
Learn more about SNAP and see RWJF recommendations
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
WIC serves about half of all infants born in the United States. WIC benefits provide healthy foods and nutrition education to qualifying pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5.
Learn more about WIC and see RWJF recommendations
School Meals
School meals prevent hunger and provide nutrients that kids need to learn and thrive. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 30 million children participated in the National School Lunch Program and nearly 15 million participated in the School Breakfast Program.
Learn more about school meals and see RWJF recommendations

Thank you for exploring our 2022 annual report.

If you’d like to share your thoughts about how we can change policies and systems to help all children grow up healthy, please email us at: [email protected].

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