Texas awarded $2 million Robert Wood Johnson Foundation childhood obesity prevention grant

Childhood obesity, a major national public health problem, is especially prevalent in Texas and other Southern states, and several policies have been enacted to tackle this problem. Texas is one of three states recently awarded $2 million by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to evaluate the effectiveness of childhood obesity prevention policies.

The Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health and the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Advancement of Healthy Living at The University of Texas School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus will collaborate with the Texas Health Institute and other partners in Live Smart Texas, a statewide coalition of more than 80 organizations, including state agencies, policy institutes, academic institutions, community organizations and advocacy groups committed to eliminating childhood obesity in Texas.

Two key childhood obesity prevention policies will be evaluated: Texas Safe Routes to School program, a program encouraging students to be more physically active by walking to school, and food allocation package revisions administered through Texas Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program. The purpose of the grants is to inform decision makers about the effectiveness of these two childhood obesity prevention policies. These studies will also help local, state and national policymakers identify policies that work toward promoting children’s healthy eating and increased physical activity.

Co-leading the program will be Deanna Hoelscher, Ph.D., R.D., professor at The University of Texas School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus and director of the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Advancement of Healthy Living, and Marcia Ory, Ph.D., Regents Professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health. Project director will be Diane Dowdy, Ph.D., from the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health.

Dr. Hoelscher stated: “This grant is historic in that it brings together researchers from both the University of Texas School of Public Health and Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, as well as a statewide consortium of other academic institutions, community groups and stakeholders in a focused effort to address one of the most significant public health issues of our time—childhood obesity. In a state as large and diverse as Texas, it is essential that we all work together to leverage our resources.”

“This is an opportunity to bring the best of research to a real-world policy issue that is affecting the lives of millions of Texas school children,” said Dr. Ory. “It is critically important to address policy issues that can have a positive effect on improving healthy eating and increasing safe and accessible places for physical activity in order to reduce the alarming trends toward childhood obesity in our state. If we don’t address this, the next generation of Texas children may very well be the first generation to grow up less healthy than their parents.”

When receiving notice of the award, Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner David L. Lakey, M.D., said, “Collaborative efforts and teamwork were one of the main reasons we received funding. You should be proud of the fine work you are doing to reduce childhood obesity in the state of Texas.”

Camille D. Miller, President/CEO of Texas Health Institute, a health policy think-tank and project collaborator expressed congratulations and hope for childhood obesity prevention, “Texas won this important research grant because of the unique state-level support and collaboration. This kind of partnership bodes well for solving the obesity challenge facing all Texas communities.”

This grant is unique in that the size and diversity of Texas will allow for a large study of underserved populations, determining how these policies affect different segments of the at-risk population, including the Hispanic/Latino population along the Texas/Mexico border. This award builds on previous work conducted in Texas to combat childhood obesity, including the School Physical Activity and Nutrition (SPAN) survey, a statewide surveillance system that monitors the prevalence of obesity in school-aged children.

States previously awarded similar grants from RWJF were Arkansas, Delaware and West Virginia. Other states named with Texas to receive the current grants were New York and Mississippi.

The Michael & Susan Dell Center for the Advancement of Healthy Living (www.sph.uth.tmc.edu/dellhealthyliving) was founded in 2006 with a grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to The University of Texas School of Public Health. The Center was established to conduct research to better understand and influence behaviors and environmental conditions that affect healthy living, with a vision of ‘healthy children in a healthy world.’ The Center is housed in the newly created University of Texas School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus in Austin, Texas.

The Texas A&M Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its seven colleges located in communities throughout Texas are the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, the College of Medicine in College Station and Temple, the College of Nursing in College Station, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston, the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy in Kingsville, and the School of Rural Public Health in College Station.