Originally published in The South Jersey Times on NJ.com
To the Editor:
Last week the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reported signs of significant progress in reversing the childhood obesity epidemic. Specifically, between 2008 and 2011, 18 states showed decreases in obesity rates for low-income preschoolers. Among these states, New Jersey recorded the second largest decrease. These are the children who have been at the highest risk for obesity and whose families have had the most limited chances to make healthy choices. It is a testament to all the work being done, by local groups like ours and national organizations like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, headquartered right here in New Jersey, to promote healthier lifestyles for children.
Since 2009, the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids has spearheaded efforts in building and strengthening childhood obesity prevention strategies that support access to affordable healthy foods and increase opportunities for safe physical activity in Camden, Newark, New Brunswick, Trenton and Vineland. Here in Vineland, our focus has been on working together to increase access to affordable, healthy foods and safe places for residents to be active.
• NJPHK-Vineland, the Vineland Health Department and Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA got five Vineland corner stores and restaurants to increase the availability of fresh produce and other healthy food choices in their establishments by implementing the Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store Toolkit.
• NJPHK-Vineland partnered with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Vineland Public School District to strengthen the school’s wellness policy, also forming a Wellness Council. Landis Intermediate won the Alliance’s Bronze award last year, which recognizes schools for creating healthier menu track to qualify for the silver award, and Petway Elementary will qualify for bronze.
• Vineland High School added two menu items made with Jersey-grown fresh produce, resulting from the collaboration of NJPHK-Vineland, the city of Vineland Health Department, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Rutgers Food Innovation Center, Vineland Public Schools and food vendor Sodexo.
• City of Vineland Engineering, Planning Health and Economic Department created bike lanes, crosswalks and share the road signage on Elmer Street and Wood.
• Healthy Kids Champion worked with schools on the introduction of a new Healthy U — a structured recess program taught during the school day options.
While we celebrate this good news, we must keep in mind the road ahead. There’s still much left to do. If this report shows us anything, it’s that the communities and states that are making robust, comprehensive changes can achieve success in reversing the childhood obesity epidemic. But there is no single change that works. We will succeed only if all sectors — our schools, our communities, our businesses, our workplaces, our grocery stores, etc. — work to help children and families make healthy choices where they live, learn, work, and play. Our combined efforts have resulted in some of the most significant progress in the fight against childhood obesity in recent history. With this in mind, we need to continue this fight and redouble our efforts to ensure that our children have the bright and healthy futures they deserve.