Priority Policies for Reducing Childhood Obesity

Strong policies can help children and families eat healthier foods and be active. Improving policies and programs to create healthier child-care settings, schools and communities is critical for helping all children grow up at a healthy weight. The following set of national policies can serve as a set of priorities as leaders work to reduce and prevent childhood obesity.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, is the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program, helping feed more than 42 million Americans each month.

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Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC)

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is one of the nation’s largest federal nutrition programs, serving about 7.8 million participants.

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Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)

The Child and Adult Food Care (CACFP) Program provides federal funding to states to reimburse providers for the cost of providing nutritious meals and snacks to children and adults in their care.

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Head Start and Early Head Start

Head Start is a comprehensive early childhood education program that helps prepare more than 1 million low-income children under the age of 5 for school every year by providing education, health and social services.

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Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Standards in ECE

Millions of children nationwide spend time in early care and education settings like Head Start, Early Head Start, and Pre-K programs. These are optimal environments for encouraging healthy eating and physical activity.

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School Meals and Snacks

Nationwide nearly 30 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program and nearly 15 million participate in the School Breakfast Program. 

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Menu Labeling

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) required chain restaurants and similar food retail establishments with at least 20 locations nationwide to post calorie information on their menus and menu boards and provide additional nutrition information like saturated fat and added sugars to customers upon request.

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Dietary Guidelines

The next iteration of the Dietary Guidelines, which will cover 2020-2025, will for the first time include standards for pregnant women, infants, and toddlers. Several federal nutrition assistance programs are required by law to have nutrition standards that meet the Dietary Guidelines.

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Nutrition Facts Labeling

Most packaged foods and beverages include a nutrition label to help consumers make healthy choices. Beginning in 2020, companies will be required to use revamped labels that better reflect current nutrition science and make the information easier to understand.

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Physical Education and Physical Activity in Schools

Experts recommend at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity for children. Physical activity provides important benefits for children, including reducing the risk of obesity.

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Safe Routes to School

Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS) promotes walking and biking to and from school by providing communities with resources to build sidewalks and bike paths, add crosswalks and improve lighting and signage to ensure safe conditions.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO) aims to help all Americans maintain a healthy weight through healthy eating and regular physical activity.

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Food Marketing to Children

Children in the United States are inundated with food and beverage ads. Food, beverage and restaurant companies spend almost $14 billion per year on advertising, more than 80% of which promotes fast food, sugary drinks, candy, and unhealthy snacks.

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Preemption happens when a higher level of government discourages, limits or even eliminates the power of a lower level of government to take action on a specific issue.  Preemption can either advance or undermine efforts to improve public health and health equity.

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Healthy Food Financing Initiative

The Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) is a public-private partnership that provides grants and loans to finance the construction and development of grocery stores and other healthy food retailers in underserved areas.

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State-by-State Reach of Child Nutrition Policies

Several federal policies aim to make healthy foods accessible and affordable to children and adults nationwide, and states play a big role in how these policies are implemented. Visit this new interactive to explore state-by-state data about child food insecurity, and how federal nutrition programs can support better child nutrition. Access data by state or by policy.

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Two kids picking produce at the grocery store

Policy Recommendations

RWJF offers specific policy recommendations to help ensure more children in the United States have consistent access to healthy foods from the earliest days of life, in order to help them grow up at a healthy weight.

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