In 2010 we launched research to identify high impact nonprofits working in the area of childhood health/nutrition. It was an important topic that year–the obesity epidemic was national news, First Lady, Michelle Obama announced her Let’s Move initiative to eradicate childhood obesity, and a federal program connected to the issue was up for re authorization We’re now ready to refresh this research and it is clear that the cause is equally important today. The Let’s Move initiative, now in its third year is still going strong. And public interest has been strengthened by advocacy efforts like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, an obesity advocacy campaign headed by famed chef Jamie Oliver. And most importantly, about a quarter of 2-5 year olds and one-third of school-age youth are overweight or obese in the U.S. (Food Research and Action Center). This can lead to negative health outcomes both in the short and long term.
We’re asking experts who work in the field of childhood health/nutrition to contribute to our research and let us know which nonprofits they think are doing the best work today.
Scope of the Research
While there are many facets to childhood health, this research specifically looks at childhood health through the lens of obesity and its consequences. The goal of sector experts is to get kids the right amount of healthy calories and then have them expend those calories through physical activity. They call this the energy equation. This equation consists of two major parts: healthy food and physical activity. Both pieces are equally important in this research.
Areas of Focus
While this is not an exhaustive list, the following is a list of prominent issue areas
School Food: Many children consume at least half of their meals at school. With more than 32 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program and more than 12 million participating in the School Breakfast Program, good nutrition at school is more important than ever (Let’s Move). There organizations are working to improve school food nutrition by advocating for changes in funding and regulations, working to integrate more local food into school meals (This is known as the farm-to-school movement.), and working to decrease access to unhealthy options like sugar sweetened beverages and snacks. Many are also working to make water more accessible at meal times and throughout the school day.
Physical activity – Physical activity doesn’t just burn calories, which is an important part of the energy equation. For children and teens regular physical activity in improves strength and endurance, helps build healthy bones and muscles, helps control weight, reduces anxiety and stress, increases self-esteem, and may improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Children spend a good deal of their time in schools and, just as with school meals, it’s important that their opportunities for physical activities (like recess and physical education) support healthy outcomes. It’s equally important that the opportunities continue outside of school as well.
Community Design- There are many ways to address issues of health and nutrition from a place-based perspective. Access to healthy foods and spaces for physical activity can be increased through urban planning and development.
Food – For many years, low-income urban and rural communities have faced limited opportunities to purchase healthy food. The term food desert is often used to describe areas with severely limited access to grocery stores and healthy food options. Often, residents in these areas rely on expensive, fatty, processed foods sold at convenience/corner stores. One means of addressing this problem is by providing corner stores access to lower cost produce in order to increase their healthy food supply. City planning can also help low income communities gain access to healthy, affordable food in the long term.
Physical activity – The built environment can have a significant impact on physical activity. Urban planning solutions for childhood health issues focus on creating safe places to play, increasing access to parks, and making sure neighborhood features (like sidewalks) encourage physical activity such as walking and bike riding.
Out of school health and nutrition – Increasingly the health and nutrition standards that are encouraged in schools are being encouraged in other institutions charged with the care of children namely after school programming and early childhood education providers. Out-of-school time (OST) programs are uniquely positioned to offer health and fitness activities that schools cannot often provide, because of their flexibility in scheduling and how they structure their programs.
Nutrition Education: Nutrition education is designed to help kids, families, and/or program administrators make healthy choices around food and physical activity. Education can take many form and focuses. Some education activities include gardening, cooking, shopping, workshops for staff and parents that focus on leading healthy lifestyles and modeling healthy eating for youth, and more.
Types of intervention
For this research, we are asking experts to recommend up to four nonprofits doing high-impact work on a national level, and up to two start-up nonprofits that have the potential to do high-impact work.
Children’s nutrition/health is a vast topic, and nonprofits support childhood health goals using numerous strategies and interventions. When recommending nonprofits experts may want to consider nonprofits addressing the following issues (all of which can be addressed in and out of school):
- Encouraging behavioral changes
- Encouraging physical activity
- Improving access to nutrition food
- Improving access to water
- Increasing connection to local and organic food
- Reducing consumption of unhealthy foods
- Urban planning
Types of organizations working in this area could include:
- Intermediaries and support organizations
- Nutrition education organization
- Policy/advocacy organizations
- Public Education organizations
- Public schools/ public charter schools/alternative schools
- Research organizations
- Training organizations
- Youth program providers
Participation in the Research
If you are a professional (foundation staff, researcher, nonprofit staff member, etc.) working in the field of childhood nutrition/health and have insights on nonprofit organizations working in this field, we’d love to hear from you. You may have received an email from us with a link to our survey. The survey will be open until early June 2013. We hope you will share your perspective and insights! If for some reason we have missed you and you think you have a valuable perspective to offer, please contact Jasmine Marrow at firstname.lastname@example.org with information about your current position and background, and we would be happy to send the survey to you to include your recommendations.
Additionally, we invite your feedback and thoughts about how you might frame this type of work. For those readers less familiar with this topic, we hope you learned something new and will check in again when we have the results of this research. Thank you all for your participation!