Friday, July 29, 2011

The Need to Address Early Child Obesity

The dialogue on childhood obesity rarely includes infants and toddlers. However, a new report published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reveals that almost 10% of children under the age of two carry excess weight and 20% of children between the ages of two and five are already overweight. The report raises a variety of issues around early childhood obesity and provides recommendations for establishing sustainable and healthy lifestyles.

One issue addressed in the report is the importance of early childhood obesity-risk assessments. While states like Louisiana are implementing fitness and body mass index measurements at grade levels, there are few state initiatives addressing assessment for children at earlier ages. Policy measures that address adequate nutrition and health for young children are an important factor in promoting health in later life. Research suggests that an overweight 3-year-old child is nearly 8 times more likely to become an overweight young adult, as compared to a typically developing 3-year-old. Moreover, the lack of access to healthy food and healthcare, often experienced by low-income and poor families, makes them more vulnerable to this trend.

The report also emphasizes the significance of physical activities and nutrition at child care facilities in lessening the risk of excessive weight-gain in children. Wisconsin and Massachusetts are both developing and implementing collaborative statewide multi‐strategy, evidence‐based initiatives to enhance nutrition and physical activity among 2‐5 year olds in child care centers. The Wisconsin Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Initiative (WECOPI), in partnership with the state Department of Health Services, works to support the new federally funded CDC/ARRA physical activity policy project, improve state standards for day care centers and youth programs to promote healthy foods, and strengthen the Child and Adult Care Food Program meal pattern guidelines, as well as other efforts aimed at providing access to exercise and more affordable, healthy foods.

The IOM report also states that the HHS and USDA’s dietary recommendations—known as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans— do not include recommendations for children under the age of two. The IOM recommends that the DGA provide these guidelines because it is critical that efforts to address childhood obesity and to develop prevention models begin early.

Visit for more information on strategies to prevent childhood obesity and promote access to affordable healthy foods.

Monday, July 25, 2011

State of America’s Children: A New Report

The Children’s Defense Fund recently released their annual State of America’s Children report. The interactive report includes both national and state data on a range of indicators related to children including: population, poverty, family structure, family income, health, nutrition, early childhood development, education, child welfare, juvenile justice, and gun violence. In addition to data, the report includes key facts and information related to the current experiences of children across the country, and addresses the disparate rates of risks and outcomes experienced by children of color. The report includes recommended actions and concludes that investing in our children and their families in critical. This report is a great tool for policymakers interested in impacting issues of child and family poverty and provides detailed information on a range of important issues.

For more data on children and families visit PolicyforResults’ Data Center.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Significance of Financial Literacy

A report recently published by the Urban Institute highlights the importance of financial literacy programs in providing education to low income families on mortgage rates and assisting in building adequate credit.

Being financially literate allows for families to make informed financial decisions and increases the potential for establishing and maintaining good credit. Good credit enables families to borrow at market interest rates; allowing for substantial purchases (for instance houses and cars) to be more affordable, while simultaneously reducing the chances of mortgage delinquency and foreclosure. As emphasized in the report, the influence of financial education programs could save families1-in-every-4 dollars they spend on mortgage payments while accelerating their accumulation of home equity and potential wealth. There are several federal initiatives aimed at supporting families in their efforts to become more financially literate and secure. HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency program encourages the creation of community partnerships to provide local, comprehensive services for individuals living in public housing or receiving Section 8 vouchers. The services provided through the FSS program assist residents in achieving economic independence through employment opportunities, the provision of work supports and homeownership counseling. Other federal efforts include HHS’s Assets for Independence, a program that saves earned income in special-purpose, matched savings accounts called Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), while additionally incorporating financial counseling and education to participants.

With 20 different federal agencies offering over 50 programs directed toward financial literacy, and the formation of the multiagency Financial Literacy and Education Commission in 2003, states have a number of resources to support their efforts to promote financial literacy and family economic security. Additionally, these resources provide great opportunities for states to save money; research states that financial education programs are cost effective because they reduce state budget deficiencies through lowering individuals’ delinquency.

Supporting financial literacy programs is a great way for policymakers to help low-income families become financially secure – while also contributing to the creation of a solvent and stable local economy.

For more information about supporting affordable housing options, visit

Monday, July 18, 2011

Calculating Early Risks

It is important that young children have safe, supportive and economically stable homes in order to grow and thrive most successfully. However, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, there are over 6 million infants and toddlers in the United States living in low-income families; half of which are living below poverty. These families and their children are often experiencing multiple demographic and familial risk factors. The young child risk calculator, developed by NCCP, is a tool that allows users to calculate the percentage of young children in a state, within a specified age range, who are experiencing selected risk factors or a combination of selected risk-factors (such as having a teen parent, low parental education and residential mobility) and economic hardship at a specified level (extreme poverty, poverty, low-income). This tool is a great way for policymakers to consider the scope of risks affecting young children in their state.

To learn more about the ways that communities, families and support services can work together to build protective factors for all children so that they are safe, healthy and able to thrive visit CSSP’s Strengthening Families.

For policy strategies to ensure children grow-up in safe, supportive and economically successful homes visit PolicyforResults.

Friday, July 15, 2011

2011 F as in Fat Report Shows Significant Increase in Obesity Rates

According to F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2011, recently released by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health, adult obesity rates increased in 16 states during that last year and did not decline in any state. Twelve states have obesity rates above 30 percent, though only one state had an obesity rate above 30 percent four years ago.

The annual report includes, for the first time, an analysis of how the obesity epidemic has grown over the past twenty years. In that time, obesity rates have doubled in seven states and increased by at least 90 percent in 10 others. Rates of diabetes and high blood pressure have also dramatically risen. However, compared to previous years, half as many states reported an increase in obesity rates, leading some, including TFAH’s director, to believe that the rates may be leveling off.

The disproportionate growth of obesity and its effects is notable. Racial and ethnic minority adults, and those with less education or who make less money, continue to have the highest overall obesity rates. Additionally, 9 of the 10 states with the highest obesity rates are located in the South.

The alarming increase in obesity rates nationally and the known effects of obesity on life-long health and well-being outcomes point to the need for policies that prevent childhood obesity; promote access to healthy foods; standardize food marketing and nutritional labeling and promote safe, transit-oriented community design. This year’s report includes recommendations for policymakers, as well as an update of enacted obesity-related legislative action in states.

Visit for strategies to prevent childhood obesity, including promoting access to healthy, affordable foods and supporting healthy community design.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Charter Schools: A Solution to Turning Around Low-Performing Schools?

Charter schools are an increasingly relevant and controversial subject in the discussion about improving failing school systems. In a recent article released by the Center for American Progress (CAP), charter schools are applauded for their ability to promote strong turnaround collaborations, offer students a range of educational options and foster innovation through competition among public schools. The report discusses an eight-state RAND study that found that charter school students are 7 to 15 percent more likely to graduate and earn a high school diploma than are traditional public high school students.

While charter schools seem to be a current f
ocus in educational reform, reports like the one published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that charter schools can be detrimental to the public education system through funding shortages from the competition of resources and appropriations, lack of oversight and accountability, and poorly managed systems by inexperienced administrators. This report cites these issues as the reason many charter schools are receiving low scores on statewide tests. In addition, it argues that charter schools leave the majority of underserved students in their same, low-performing schools rather than investing in turning around traditional schools.

As suggested by the CAP article, the debate about charter schools is intensifying as more schools and districts are looking at this model for turning around low-performing institutions. Although there is no broad consensus about the results of charter schools, it remains important for policymakers to understand the range of school turnaround mechanisms, as success varies depending on the unique characteristics of schools and communities. Thus, academic achievement depends on the support of the community and the context of the charter itself, among many other factors.

For more information on improving K-3 academic success, turning around low-performing high schools and other strategies to promote high school completion, visit

Monday, July 11, 2011

New tool from Half in 10!

The Half in Ten campaign and the Coalition on Human Needs recently released a new tool called, the Road to Shared Prosperity. The tool is an interactive state-by-state map displaying a collection of personal stories about programs across the country that they feel exemplify efforts toward building the American Dream. The map allows for users to click either by subject (such as childcare, education, health, tax credits, nutrition assistance, housing and utilities and jobs and training) or by state – in order to learn about people’s personal experiences with different services and supports. The tool includes not only videos of people addressing their efforts in a state, but also demographic information about the state; including the rate of poverty, percentage of state spending that comes from the federal government, minimum wage workers annual salary, the number of children in need of childcare, etc. The tool is a great way to learn about personal experiences in different communities across the states. For policymakers it is a great way to hear personal stories from constituents as well as to hear what is working for people across the country.

For more information on strategies to advance what works visit