New Jersey is ranked 12th in the nation for obesity in 2- to 4-year-olds who are enrolled in the WIC program, and nearly one third of the state’s 10- to 17-year-olds are overweight or obese. As health care costs continue to soar, tackling pediatric obesity from a scientific and community-based standpoint is an urgent priority met head-on by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Healthy Kids Initiative (NJHKI).
Rutgers is a proven leader in evidence-based scientific research and a member of the Big Ten Academic Alliance. This consortium of 14 elite universities conducts over $10 billion in funded research on an annual basis. As a land grant institution, Rutgers connects the laboratory to the community by sharing cutting-edge knowledge with the residents of New Jersey. The New Jersey Healthy Kids Initiative is a groundbreaking partnership between two preeminent institutes at Rutgers: the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health (IFNH) and the Child Health Institute of New Jersey (CHINJ). The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided the project with a three-year, $3 million launch grant, highlighting a shared vision to make New Jersey kids the healthiest in the country.
The primary goal of the NJHKI is to ensure that as children enter kindergarten, they meet the physical and emotional milestones recommended in RWJF’s Healthy Children, Healthy Weight campaign. The long-term objective is to lower the percentage of childhood overweight and obesity in New Jersey, thus decreasing the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancers in adulthood. The NJHKI builds upon the core values of the Rutgers Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health with a focus on health equity and community partnership. By uniting with local families to pinpoint child health needs and explore where they are unmet, the NJHKI can develop a task force to address those needs.
The initiative aims to be a voice for children everywhere, especially those in communities disproportionately burdened by childhood obesity. The NJHKI will reach neighborhoods where wholesome, fresh and affordable food options might be scarce. By creating broad-based programs that promote nutrition and culinary education, as well as physical fitness, the NJHKI will work closely with the communities it serves to address the critical issue of childhood obesity.
The public is invited to participate in a Community Advisory Board and to attend special workshops that make the latest scientific research accessible to the family unit. The initiative’s research is community-focused and community-engaged, with an open exchange of ideas to improve the health of New Jersey’s children. If it takes a village to raise a child, it will take a community to keep that child healthy in today’s complex world.