Lifting Every Voice in the Fight Against Childhood Obesity

Voices for Healthy Kids® is proud to partner with the NAACP in an effort to reverse childhood obesity across the United States, but particularly where the opportunity for high population impact is the greatest – the African-American community. Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and American Heart Association (AHA), works to help all young people eat healthier foods and be more active. By engaging, organizing and mobilizing people in communities across the United States, Voices for Healthy Kids will help make the healthy choice the easy choice in the places where children live, learn, play and pray.

One year ago, this initiative began with a strong commitment to health equity and an acknowledgement that the external expertise of organizations such as the NAACP would be essential to our goal of achieving high population impact where the childhood obesity rates are the highest. Today our relationship with NAACP could not be more critical in shaping our approach. This is why the AHA Mid-Atlantic Affiliate, Horizon Foundation, and the Maryland State Medical Society are working together with the Maryland NAACP Chapter as founding members of the Maryland Sugar Free Kids Coalition. We are proud to report that the movement won a victory when the Maryland legislature passed a bill this year that will improve nutrition and physical activity in child care settings across the state.

The “Child Care Centers – Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Act” requires centers to provide healthier drinks to children in their care, better support mothers who are breastfeeding, and reduc non-educational screen time. Without question, the potential for more victories across the country looks promising and, with the guidance of the National, State, and local NAACP health staff, we are now examining additional opportunities to engage other NAACP chapters that share our Voices for Healthy Kids regional and policy priorities.

It’s an honor to participate in the NAACP 2014 National Convention and share how the American Heart Association is combining socially responsible policy with strategic philanthropy to ensure that the next generation of African-American kids is healthier, and parents are empowered to keep them healthy by having more choices in the communities where they live, not fewer.

On a personal note, I can’t help but think of this awe-inspiring convention as a sacred space where some of my personal heroes such as Thurgood Marshall, W.E.B. DuBois, and Julian Bond have historically brought together leaders from across the country to exchange movement building ideas, sharpen their skills, organize and mobilize around some of the greatest barriers to opportunity facing our community and country. In the spirit of their consciousness and commitment, all of us at the American Heart Association hope to make them proud as we work to empower advocates to take action in their communities and improve health of children across the nation.

Nii-Quartelai Quartey serves as the national health equity and multicultural partnerships manager for Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and American Heart Association to reverse the child obesity epidemic across the United States through State and local policy campaigns.