I recently had the privilege of attending the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)’s kick-off meeting to announce its new $500 million investment to help all children grow up at a healthy weight. This investment will focus on changing policies in school and community environments through 2025 by supporting research, action and advocacy strategies. In 2007, the Foundation announced an initial investment of $500 million in childhood obesity prevention, including funding Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities. This new infusion of funding will bring RWJF’s total investment in childhood obesity prevention to an impressive $1 billion over a generation.
The meeting was held at Edwards A. Reynolds West Side High School in Manhattan, in part because of the innovative health programs and policies implemented under the strong leadership of its principal, Jean McTavish. A strategically chosen spokesperson was also there to help promote the initiative: First Lady Michelle Obama. Childhood obesity prevention, after all, has been the First Lady’s signature cause, and her Let’s Move! initiative helped focus national attention on improving the health of our nation’s children. Mrs. Obama shared with us Principal McTavish’s passion for serving her students only healthy foods:
“She fought an epic battle to get skinless chicken breasts into school lunches here—that’s a fight we all have to have. And when the vending company wouldn’t fill the machines here with healthy snacks, this woman literally turned those machines around so they were facing the wall, because, as she put it, ‘I don’t have to sell any [unhealthy] food in my school, thank you very much!’”
This approach would be viable for four of RWJF’s five new priority areas, which are to:
Examples of two successful healthy vending initiatives accomplished through Active Living By Design’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities work illustrate the widespread impact that healthy vending policies can have.
Successful policy adoption takes time. It requires resident and policy maker engagement, timely and strategic advocacy work, and thorough implementation to achieve desired outcomes. Having high-profile champions like the First Lady and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation certainly helps, since their support can substantially move the public opinion needle in the right direction. But the beauty of policy change, from this “policy wonk’s” perspective, is that once it’s in place and vigilantly monitored, it outlives elected officials’ tenures in office, has a better chance of surviving political shifts and achieves long-lasting results.