Despite some positive trends at the state level, childhood obesity continues to plague our nation. To bring attention to the epidemic and its overwhelming social and economic costs, estimated to exceed $100 billion annually, President Obama declared September as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Below is the second entry in our Center’s mini-series on childhood obesity in honor of the awareness month. See also Childhood Obesity Awareness Month: An Opportunity for Donors to Support Children’s Health.
Leveraging peers to enable healthy eating choices:
Research tells us, and frankly any parent can confirm, that children are wired to adopt the food preferences and consumption habits of their peer groups (see studies from the University of Michigan and NIH). Unfortunately, we know that children don’t always choose to eat what is healthiest for them. The proliferation of sugary drinks and overly processed snacks in the media and on the shelves of convenience stores means healthy choices are often less attractive or harder to make. So what can donors do to enable children’s healthy choices?
One possible solution is to support comprehensive nutrition education programs that work with children in their school environment, where peer influence can be leveraged to promote health.
The Kindergarten Initiative (KI) integrates nutrition and agriculture education into regular classroom curriculum at its partner schools, exposing students to locally grown fruit and vegetable snacks and taking them on farm field trips. Parent engagement activities are also incorporated to reinforce healthy eating at home. A nine-month evaluation demonstrated that participants’ knowledge of healthy eating increased, their awareness of where food is grown improved, and they consumed more fruits on a daily basis. Implementing the program costs approximately $3,700 per class. We estimate it costs less than $120 for each incremental student now consuming 17% more fruits and nuts per week.
To learn more about the Kindergarten Initiative and other opportunities to support nutrition education in schools, visit The Food Trust’s site. We encourage donors interested in other childhood obesity prevention strategies to check out our report, Prevent Childhood Obesity: Lessons from Greater Philadelphia.
As always, we hope the opportunities we present help donors move from good intentions to high impact.