The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has awarded multi-year grants to 41 communities across the country as part of a landmark national program to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015.

The 41 sites are funded through Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, an RWJF program that supports local efforts to improve access to affordable, healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity for children and families. With nine communities named as leading sites in 2008, the program now encompasses 50 sites in more than half of the states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. And with a total commitment of $33 million over five years, it is the Foundation’s single largest investment in community-based solutions to childhood obesity.

“These sites can help move the country toward a place where good health is built right into the environment,” says Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the foundation. “All children, no matter where they live, should be able to jump on a bike and ride safely in their neighborhood or to school. They should be able to play in well-maintained and crime-free parks. And they and their families should be able to easily find—and afford—fresh, healthy foods.”

More than 23 million children and adolescents in the United States—nearly a third of youth ages two to 19—are now overweight or obese. Even among ages two to five, the rate of being overweight and obese is 24 percent. Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities is a cornerstone of RWJF’s $500 million commitment to reverse the epidemic.

The program will work in communities as diverse as Houghton County in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and in Desoto, Marshall, and Tate counties in the Mississippi Delta. Some are big cities like Houston and Philadelphia, while others are small, isolated locations like Cuba, New Mexico. But all of the targeted neighborhoods have a significant obesity problem exacerbated by such issues as high unemployment, poverty, crime, dangerous traffic, too few grocery stores, and aging, broken, or insufficient infrastructure.

The new sites and the program will target the barriers that make it difficult for children to get daily physical activity or to eat healthy foods. They’ll then determine what new policies and environmental changes would work best to overcome those barriers and reduce the prevalence of obesity.

Project leaders in all 50 communities have recruited an impressive array of local partners, including academic and health institutions, faith-based groups and nonprofit organizations, chambers of commerce, and even a bicycling association. Many also are involving urban planners, local parks departments, or school districts.

“Where people live has a huge impact on their health and quality of life,” says Sarah Strunk, M.H.A., director of Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities. “The Foundation’s investment in 50 communities across the nation—and collaboration among passionate, committed leaders and advocates—means that children who are at greatest risk for obesity will find that the healthy choice becomes the easier choice.”

Each of the 41 new communities will receive a four-year grant of up to $360,000 to craft innovative solutions aimed at helping children and families lead healthier lives. Among the varied approaches they will pursue:

·Nash and Edgecombe Counties in North Carolina will tackle obesity among very young children by working with preschool providers to make sure they support active play and serve nutritious foods. The project also will forge ties with medical providers to help them educate parents.

·Portland, Oregon, will use GIS (geographic information system) mapping to identify disparities such as a lack of parks, grocery stores, or safe walking paths. The project will then build such features into lower-income areas of the city.

·Kansas City, Missouri, plans to expand access to healthy foods through a sustainable food program servicing the metropolitan area on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri state line.

·Kingston, New York, aims to transform a decaying urban core of empty storefronts and a hazardous main street into a midtown with parks, trails, and community gardens.

As successes are replicated, more and more communities will be transformed. “Who wouldn’t want to leave this kind of legacy for our kids?” Strunk says.

The 41 cities and regions announced today as Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities sites are:

Alabama: Jefferson County

Arkansas: Boone and Newton Counties

Arizona: Phoenix

California: Rancho Cucamonga

California: Watsonville and Pajaro Valley

Colorado: Denver

Florida: Jacksonville

Florida: Lake Worth, Greenacres, and Palm Springs

Georgia: Cook County

Georgia: Milledgeville

Illinois: Kane County

Louisiana: New Orleans

Massachusetts: Fitchburg

Michigan: Flint

Michigan: Houghton County

Mississippi: Desoto, Marshall, and Tate Counties

Mississippi: Jackson

Missouri: Kansas City

Nebraska: Omaha

New Mexico: Cuba

New Mexico: Grant County

New Mexico: San Felipe Pueblo

New York: Buffalo

New York: Kingston

New York: Rochester

North Carolina: Moore and Montgomery Counties

North Carolina: Nash and Edgecombe Counties

Ohio: Hamilton County

Oregon: Benton County

Oregon: Multnomah County/Portland

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia

Puerto Rico: Caguas

South Carolina: Greenville

South Carolina: Spartanburg County

Tennessee: Chattanooga

Tennessee: Knox County

Texas: El Paso

Texas: Houston

Texas: San Antonio

West Virginia: Charleston

Wisconsin: Milwaukee

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