By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Illustration of kids playing on a playground

The Voices for Healthy Kids advocacy initiative released a progress report on Thursday saying the organization’s work has impacted more than 66 million lives over three years.

The report details the work of coalitions of grassroots advocates and organizations throughout the country working on issues of food access, safer communities, improved food choices for kids and an array of other policies to improve children’s health.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association created the initiative, which awards grants to groups to advance public policies that increase physical activity and improve nutrition. The foundation provided an additional $13 million for this coming year, which brings its overall commitment to more than $50 million over four years.

“We’ve seen powerful change driven by advocates for healthy communities,” AHA Chief Executive Officer Nancy Brown said. “And we are inspired by the passion of families, the medical community, and businesses to ensure kids can be active and eat well. Voices for Healthy Kids is bringing much needed resources focused on health equity so that advocates and community leaders can ensure equitable health policies support all their residents.”

A study published early this year in the American Journal of Public Health said the initiative’s support, both financial and technical, could increase the chances of passing state policy by 50 percent. In states without initiative support, 10 percent of bills were enacted, compared to 15 percent in states with support.

The progress report outlined a sampling of the work in which the initiative has been involved:

  • Safe routes to school. A coalition of advocates in Oregon helped push $3.5 million in funding from the legislature for a regional Safe Routes to School program and improvements such as sidewalks and street crossings. In Colorado, safe routes supporters worked through ups and downs of funding for a couple of years and won the support of that state’s governor for $10 million to the Colorado Safe Routes to School Program over four years. Much of that money will go toward crosswalks, sidewalks and trails.
  • Healthier vending. In Baltimore, a pilot project blossomed into a permanent policy to require healthy offerings in public facilities throughout that city, affecting 18,000 employees and as many as 622,000 residents who visit public libraries, centers, parks, pools and other facilities.  In San Francisco, a new ordinance requires that prepackaged food and beverages sold in machines on city and county property meet certain nutrition standards. That measure will impact 29,000 employees and more than 830,000 residents.
  • Smart snacks and meals for students. Advocates in South Carolina worked for two years to help push through a law to update the state’s nutrition standards so that they align with federal ones and that schools report on compliance. It also ensures snacks sold at school meet the same standards as breakfast and lunch.
  • Reducing sales of drinks with added sugar. Earlier this year, Philadelphia became the largest city in the country, and the second behind Berkeley, California, to tax soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks. The 1.5 cents-per-ounce levy will fund citywide programs such as pre-kindergarten. This campaign was funded by the AHA.
  • Food access. In Minnesota, a 25-member coalition helped push for legislation to give grants, low-cost loans and technical support for food-related stores, markets and other enterprises helping to increase food access throughout the state, including its large Native American population. In Ohio, legislators, created a healthy food financing initiative and provided its initial $2 million in funding.

Brown said in the report that success “would not be possible without the collaboration of dozens of organizations in states across the nation who are sharing their expertise and passion for a healthier future.”