The epidemic of childhood obesity is recognized as one of the leading public health threats of the 21st Century. It is likely to shorten and diminish the quality of life of millions of Americans and lead to unsustainable burdens being placed on an already strained health and health care system. 

The epidemic is not simply the end result of poor decisions and unhealthy behaviors at the individual level; it is a symptom of a number of broken systems and increasingly unhealthy societal norms. Clinical systems are ill-equipped to manage or prevent childhood obesity. Government and corporate practices often promote unhealthy behavior. Disparities in health-promoting resources at the community level make it difficult for children and families who are most at risk to make healthy choices. The need for systems change in each of these sectors presents strategic opportunities for the development of model interventions.

Our Approach

Altarum Institute’s Childhood Obesity Prevention Mission Project leveraged $2.5 million to support strategic partnerships and a number of systems-changing projects designed to promote a healthy, active lifestyle. The Obesity Prevention Mission Project employed a multi-systems approach. Financial, human, and technical resources were mobilized to effect health-promoting changes in clinical, community, corporate, and governmental sectors. Altarum’s expertise in working with complex systems (e.g., early childhood education and care systems; food and nutrition systems; data surveillance systems; and public and private sector clinical quality systems) were applied to our work with external partners dedicated to preventing childhood obesity.

During this 2-year project, a team of Altarum staff, as well as external advisors and partners, developed and implemented sector-specific pilot projects designed to support and promote physical activity and healthy eating. The team worked to weave these efforts together and to disseminate successful methods and changes in policies or practices. To ensure its success, the project was organized by a group of established leaders from other nationally recognized childhood obesity prevention collaborations.

What We Achieved

We developed and piloted effective systems change models to confront the epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States. Over 2 years, we worked to prioritize and take advantage of strategic opportunities, resulting in procedural and structural changes to systems affecting the health and nutritional status of children and families. We evaluated the impact of our work and laid the groundwork for future interventions by disseminating findings and investing in sustainable infrastructure and partnerships.