The University of Illinois at Chicago has announced a $4.4 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study policy and environmental factors that influence youth behaviors related to nutrition, physical activity, and obesity.
The funds will provide continued support for the ImpacTeen project's research into factors that discourage healthy eating and active living practices, as well as policies and practices with the greatest potential to reduce health disparities and reverse the childhood obesity epidemic. Among other things, researchers will survey participation rates in federal school meal programs, the types of foods and beverages offered within and outside those programs, the time allotted for physical education and recess, school wellness policies, the availability of healthy food options in communities, and characteristics of the built environment. Researchers also will analyze Nielsen Media Research data to evaluate exposure to television ads for foods, beverages, and restaurants by age group and assess the nutritional content of the products advertised.
A component of Bridging the Gap, a partnership between UIC and the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, ImpacTeen has received grants totaling more than $40 million from RWJF over the last fifteen years.
Many communities and schools fail to encourage healthy eating or active living — which has led to long-term health consequences and increased healthcare costs, said Frank Chaloupka, director of the Health Policy Center at UIC's Institute for Health Research and Policy and principal investigator of the study. If the obesity epidemic continues unabated, Chaloupka added, "it may soon cause as many preventable diseases and deaths as those from cigarette smoking and other tobacco use."