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Prevent Childhood Obesity

Strategies Success Stories

What Can Policymakers Do?

  • Improve access to affordable, healthy foods. By supporting policies that provide incentives for grocery stores to locate in underserved communities and for small retailers to offer fresh fruits and vegetables, policymakers can address one of the most critical contributors to childhood obesity: the lack of access to healthy, nutritious and affordable food.  Studies show that improved access to healthy food corresponds to healthier eating and lower rates of obesity and diabetes.[1] In fact, people who live close to grocery stores are less likely to be overweight and obese.[2]By increasing access to affordable, healthy food, policymakers can provide children and families with the opportunity to make healthy choices.
  • Support healthy school initiatives. Supporting policies that require nutrition and physical education and improving the nutritional quality of foods served in schools not only helps to reduce obesity but also has been shown to improve academic achievement. [3] Physically fit students are less likely to miss school, engage in risky behaviors, get pregnant or attempt suicide; the avoidance of these behaviors, in turn, leads to better academic outcomes. [4] Children across the country spend their formative years in the country’s schools, and schools therefore remain a critical place for policymakers to implement childhood obesity prevention efforts.
  • Support healthy community design. Policymakers can support community design initiatives that improve the health of children and families.  Studies have found that children living in neighborhoods without parks and recreation centers are more likely to be overweight and obese. [5] Having safe ways to walk to school, work and shop increases the physical activity in a community.  The five state policy options that are most effective at encouraging physical activities, like biking and walking, are incorporating sidewalks and bike lanes into community design, providing funding for biking and walking in highway projects, establishing safe routes to school, fostering traffic-calming measures and creating incentives for mixed-use development. [6] Supporting infrastructure change to allow and encourage physical activity is an opportunity for states to make short- and long-term investments that benefit the health of children and families.

[1] PolicyLink (2010) Healthy Foods, Healthy Communities.

[2] Leadership for Healthy Communities (Updates, 2010) Action Strategies Tool Kit.

[3] Trust for America’s Health (2010). F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future.30. 

[4] Taras, H. (2005) Physical Activity and Student Performance at School. Journal of School Health. (75)(6) 214-218. The University of Michigan. Physical education in America’s Public Schools.

[5] Bethell, Simpson, Stumbo, et al. “National, state, and local disparities in Childhood Obesity.”

[6] Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Grant Results: Researchers Review State Policies on Promoting Walking and Biking - Identify Five with Greatest Potential to Work. Princeton, NJ: RWJF, 2005.


Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC), a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, supports local and state government leaders in their efforts to reduce childhood obesity through policies that promote active living, healthy eating and access to healthy foods.  LHC emphasizes promoting policies with the greatest potential for increasing sustainable opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating among children at highest risk for obesity.


The Brookings Institution and The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) performed a detailed analysis of supermarket access in 10 metro areas.  The results of their research are discussed in the video titled, "Getting to Market." The research is also available on TRF’s policy map tool with which users can view the locations of, and generate reports about, low-supermarket-access communities within the 10 metro areas.