New Jersey Groups Come Together to Tackle Childhood Obesity
Schools and communities throughout New Jersey are fighting an epidemic of childhood obesity with the help of the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids. Founded in 2009 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the initiative is comprised of local YMCAs and concerned community organizations, and has fostered pilot programs to encourage healthy habits across five cities in New Jersey: Newark, New Brunswick, Camden, Vineland and Trenton.
Among the problems facing New Jersey youngsters are not only a shortage of healthy food, but limited access to recreational space and a polluted environment. In response, programs have pushed for healthier school lunches, brought YMCA staff into school for extended recess, and encouraged volunteer groups to adopt local parks to make them safer spaces for children to play.
The program has also introduced funds to install refrigerators in food pantries at churches, so that the low-income families who utilize them can have access to more than just canned food.
In New Brunswick, nearly half of all children age 3 to 5 are overweight or obese – over twice the national average. Rates of childhood obesity are similarly high throughout the five cities where the Partnership is active.
"The Partnership is going after structural changes in the city environment and public policies that encourage healthy lifestyles, rather than designing programs like exercise and cooking classes," Fitzgerald writes.