Fine Print: The New Jersey Partnership For Healthy Kids

Beth Fitzgerald | July 9, 2012 | Health Care
It's a simple -- but efficacious -- theory: 'healthier' streets make healthier kids

What it is: The partnership is a long-term effort to reverse high childhood obesity rates in five New Jersey cities: Newark, Trenton, Vineland, Camden, and New Brunswick. Funded by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the partnership seeks to change the environment in these cities by making physical exercise more convenient and healthy foods more available, so that it’s easy for children and their families to adopt healthy lifestyles.

What has been done so far: Since 2010, the partnership has been bringing community stakeholders — schools, elected officials, parents, churches, nonprofits, and healthcare providers — together to coordinate their efforts to make healthy changes in the physical and nutritional environment. The communities are putting changes into place via pilot initiatives, which will be expanded to wider areas of each city.

How to Plan for Health: City councils in Trenton, New Brunswick, and Vineland have adopted “complete streets” policies, a commitment to making neighborhoods safe and convenient for walking and biking. Trenton’s Monument Elementary School will get a volunteer-built playground in August, and the school’s cafeteria will have a salad bar in the fall. Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital supplied counselors for after-school recreation at Baker Park; in the winter, First Baptist Church hosted the program. This summer Newark’s Nat Turner Park will build a “born learning trail,” a series of activities that encourage exercise. Schools in several of the cities will serve breakfast in classrooms to ensure that children start their day with a healthy meal. In Camden, the Greensgrow Farm Neighborhood market is bringing farmers markets to nine locations in the city.

What’s next: The Partnership is working on bringing new supermarkets into the five cities, large sections of which are considered “food deserts” due to the scarcity of nutritious food options. And work is underway with The Food Trust to help small stores sell healthy foods. The Partnership is seeking funding to continue its work through 2015.

How the impact will be measured: A research team from Rutgers has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to follow 1,200 children in the five cities for five years. The study is not limited to assessing the impact of the Partnership’s efforts, but will look at the impact on childhood obesity bu all the changes being made in physical activity and nutrition in the five cities. Knowledge gained in New Jersey could eventually enable policymakers to devise strategies for combating the nation’s obesity epidemic.