An initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Expert Perspective

On the Hill

School Meals SNAP WIC


March 5th, 2019


Nearly one in five children and teens now have obesity, and adult obesity rates are higher than ever. Less than 20 years years ago, no state had an adult obesity rate over 23 percent. Now, no state has a rate lower than that.

These sobering statistics are one reason why nearly 100 advocates, nutritionists, researchers, Congressional staff members and others gathered on Capitol Hill for The State of Obesity 2018 Congressional Briefing in late February.

Trust for America’s Health hosted the briefing, and John Auerbach, their president and CEO, began the session by emphasizing that prevention is key.

John Auerbach, Renee Boynton-Jarrett, Jamie Bussel and Ruth Petersen.

"Working with children is critically important, as it is better to prevent obesity than try to reduce it after someone already has it."

John Auerbach, president and CEO, Trust for America’s Health

That focus on preventing obesity has been central to the work of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) as well. Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at RWJF, emphasized that there have been important advancements in the efforts to prevent obesity over the last decade, a time period in which the Foundation has committed more than $1 billion to help all children grown up at a healthy weight.

Speaker presenting on the hill

School meals and snacks are now meeting healthier nutrition standards, and participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, better known as WIC, have access to healthier choices of foods and beverages too. Major food and beverage companies created a voluntary initiative to ensure healthier standards for food and beverage marketing to kids.

Despite those and many other achievements, obesity continues to threaten our nation’s health, health care system, economy, and future, Bussel said. What’s more, obesity rates remain far too high across the board.

Dr. Ruth Petersen, Director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, agreed that in order to meaningfully reduce those rates, efforts to prevent obesity need to begin early in life.

For instance, children develop their preference for physical activity from an early age and from the communities they live in, Petersen said.

Finally, Dr. Renee Boynton-Jarrett, Associate Professor, Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine, said that early life adversity and adversities in the family life all have impacts on health. In other words, we know kids can’t thrive unless their families are thriving.

Ultimately, all of the speakers and participants agreed that obesity demands a multi-sector response. Only with commitments from policymakers, business leaders, philanthropy, schools, childcare centers, parents, and more can we help all children grow up at a healthy weight.

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