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Policy And Environmental Change Strategies To Combat Childhood Obesity

Center For Regional Citizenship

Over the last eighteen months, the Center for Regional Citizenship, in partnership with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, has been engaged in an in-depth organizing campaign around childhood obesity. Since March 2008, the Interfaith Center has had a regional organizer on the ground in the Western Tidewater area working with faith communities and civic leaders and groups to create local capacity to address childhood obesity and to gain ground-level community insight and understanding of the issues involved. The goals of this work have been to develop an empowered community with organic interest in the subject, develop applicable public policy solutions reflective of the real needs of families in Western Tidewater, and create sustainable structures for long-term implementation of policy solutions.

The first year of the project focused on reaching out to the faith community to develop a leadership core for what would become known as the Interfaith Coalition to Combat Childhood Obesity. The initial field work helped inform impressions regarding policy concerns relevant to rural communities of color. Continued efforts have established connections with over 100 faith-based organizations throughout Western Tidewater and built new relationships with secular allies.

Studies have shown that if the childhood obesity epidemic in America continues, this generation of young people may be the first in U.S. History to live sicker and die younger than their parents’ generation. The magnitude of the epidemic requires that we all work together to create environments that support more healthy lifestyles.

The efforts of this project have focused on galvanizing diverse faith communities in Western Tidewater to advance policies and environmental changes that aim to increase access to healthy foods and safe places to play, with an emphasis on reaching those children who are at highest risk for obesity.

The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy has prepared policy recommendations based on their organizing work within the faith communities of Western Tidewater. Many of the recommendations point toward local policies and actions, like the need for greater access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables, the need for authentic partnerships between faith leaders and community stakeholders in communities of color, and the need for more safe, well-lit play areas for children, but attention was also drawn to a number of policies and programs already in place at the state level but which either lack adequate funding or which could otherwise be strengthened for greater impact and success in combating the childhood obesity epidemic.

The state policy recommendations focus primarily on school environments. They suggest more rigorous nutritional standards for school meals, decreased access to foods offered in competition to school meals, and the need for the collection of body mass index for children and adolescents. Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of whether a person’s weight is healthy in proportion to height. It is widely accepted as a reliable measure for tracking obesity rates and assessing obesity prevention programs. Virginia, however, is not among the twenty states across the nation that routinely collects BMIs for children and adolescents.

The full policy document is available on the Center for Regional Citizenship’s website at: and go to the Healthy Habits local initiative.

The need for action is clear and the voice of the community is powerful. It is critical that we join forces to support healthy schools, healthy communities and healthy children.

Support for this project was provided by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Click here for Healthy Kids in Hampton Roads document.

Healthy Habits

For more information, please contact Kelly Jackson,
Director of the WHRO Center for Regional Citizenship
757.889.9415 or

The Center for Regional Citizenship extends the impact of public broadcasting with a goal to build civic, social and educational capital in Hampton Roads. For more information on the CRC, please visit the website at

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For more information on the
Center for Regional Citizenship,
please visit the website at

If you would like more information, please contact Kelly Jackson, Director of the WHRO Center for Regional Citizenship, at 757.889.9415 or



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