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Conference calls for action for healthier children

February 20, 2016 | Community News

Originally posted on

by Sheila Cort, NJ Partnership for Healthy Kids

The New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids (NJPHK), a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, hosted the Building a Culture of Health in New Jersey Conference on Dec. 2 at the Pines Manor in Edison.

The conference keynote speaker, Sandra G. Hassink, MD, MS, FAAP, president, American Academy of Pediatrics, spoke about “Childhood Obesity from the Perspective of a Pediatrician: Social Determinants of Health and Civil Rights Pertaining to Food Access and Physical Activity.”

“We can’t build a culture of health without raising the value of a child in our society,” said Dr. Hassink.  “We need to change the framework of how we think about children.  As a pediatrician, I would have never thought that I would treat children with such illnesses as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, liver disease, and many others that were once only seen in middle-age adults.”

Attended by more than 300 community leaders, government leaders, teachers, dieticians, social workers and school nurses, the conference focused on health care; policy and environment changes that better support children, family and community life; equity and opportunity; and private and public decision-making that impacts a community’s overall health.

“More than 63 percent of adults and 23 percent of adolescents in New Jersey are overweight or obese,” stated Darrin Anderson, deputy director of NJPHK. “That’s why, more than ever, it’s important to continue empowering leaders to create the change needed to provide opportunities for families to make healthy choices – early on and throughout their lives.”

Over the past five years, NJPHK and its community partners have made great strides in implementing more than 100 environmental and policy changes to increase access to physical activity and healthy eating, including: assisting with the development of school wellness policies, renovating playgrounds, installing bike lanes, partnering with more than 90 local corner stores to include healthier product offerings and launching healthy farmer’s markets in combination with health screenings.

During the conference Dr. Hassink noted that obesity and under-nutrition co-exists today, creating a double burden.

“Today, the picture of food insecurity is increasingly an overweight or obese child consuming a poor-quality diet,” said Dr. Hassink.  “Limited resources and lack of access to healthy, affordable food stems from several things, including: lack of full-service grocery stores and farmer’s markets, greater density of fast food, and cost differentials between healthy and unhealthy food.”

“The many advocates and supporters who work diligently to make a difference in the health of our communities are to be commended for their efforts — both in the field and behind the scenes,” said Anderson. During the conference, the inaugural “Culture of Health Champion Awards” were presented to four organizations/affiliations for outstanding efforts in four categories:

Active Living: City of New Brunswick – Recognized for unprecedented leadership in creating a Culture of Health, opening the streets for Ciclovia, supporting Hub City Fresh-New Brunswick Healthy Corner Store initiative, and supporting the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance.

Food Access: NJ Farm to School Network – Recognized for support of NJ Farm to School Pre-school, promoting and encouraging Jersey Fresh, leading the passage of NJ Farm to School bills that promote community and school gardens, and co-creation of Trenton’s Greenwood Ave. Farmers Market.

Community: The Rutgers Cooperative Extension – Recognized for providing leadership, collaboration and science-based education  through partners – NJPHK and Department of Health; implementation of Get Moving – Get Healthy New Jersey; and partnering in advancing environment and policy change.

Business: Campbell Soup Company – Recognized for its Campbell Healthy Communities initiative; leading in the business sector for addressing food access, active living and equity; and investment in a citywide healthy corner store initiative that has engaged nearly 40 stores

The conference was co-sponsored by the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids, NJ YMCA State Alliance; Shaping NJ, New Jersey Department of Health; Family and Community Health Sciences; Rutgers Cooperative Extension; and the New Jersey Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics.

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