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A Letter From Dr. Rich Besser


“By working together, we can build a nation that supports, sustains, and secures the well-being of all our children and their families.”

RWJF President & CEO, Dr. Richard Besser

Throughout my career as a pediatrician, a public health professional, a television health journalist, and now as the head of a national health philanthropy, I have always continued to see patients in community clinics.

Many of my patients have been children of low-income families, working hard to stay as healthy as possible despite the many barriers they face. Many struggle with obesity. I got to know these families over the years, and I’ve realized that obesity and other health concerns are symptoms of larger, more systemic problems regarding health and equity in our society. Poverty. Unstable and unsafe housing. Schools that don’t meet children’s needs. Neighborhoods that seldom offer families opportunities to thrive. These are all conditions that influence health.

Many of these community conditions are a result of discriminatory policies and systems that have been in place for decades. And they continue to contribute to the significant disparities in obesity rates by race, by income, and by geography. However, we have the power to change these outcomes and make our nation a more equitable society. The more we understand the barriers to good health, the more we can do to address them.

That is why we are releasing a new annual report, State of Childhood Obesity: Helping All Children Grow Up Healthy, that includes the best available data on national and state childhood obesity rates and, importantly, recommends policies to improve children’s health.

While we have seen backsliding at the federal level, we have seen glimmers of hope at the state and local levels. In Columbus, Ohio, for instance, the local WIC program hosts a farmers’ market right outside the Columbus Department of Public Health, where anyone can buy affordable fruits and vegetables. And the local Water First for Thirst campaign is working to improve access to drinking water, so it is the drink of choice at markets, outdoor events, and child care centers.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is committed to reducing the rates of childhood obesity across the nation. We know it won’t be easy, or quick. We know it will require policy changes at every level of government, and we’re working alongside others to implement shifts that will make it easier for kids and their families to be healthy. We’re also working to address the broader community conditions—like housing, employment at a living wage, transportation, community financing, and clean air and water—that will help to ensure that everyone in America has a fair and just opportunity to live as healthy as possible.

As you read this report and explore the website, I encourage you to think about what policies you can help to improve, and how you can collaborate with others to do it. By working together, we can build a nation that supports, sustains, and secures the well-being of all our children and their families.

Report: State of Childhood Obesity

October 2019

Find the latest data and trends, expert commentaries and recommendations for addressing the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic in the State of Childhood Obesity: Helping All Children Grow Up Healthy.

Download the Report

New Data: Rates Hold Steady for Youth Ages 10 to 17

October 2019

New data show that 4.8 million youth ages 10 to 17 nationwide have obesity. Rates vary by state, and significant racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities persist.

Interact with the Data

Policy Recommendations

October 2019

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.

Read the Recommendations

Published on October 10, 2019


Young boy holding a plant.

Stories and Expert Perspectives

Hear from experts about the impact of policies and programs in their communities, read interviews with researchers about data releases, and learn how some communities are taking action to help more children grow up healthy, including from places that have measured a decline in childhood obesity rates.

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