A Closer Look at the Millions in Grants That a Retail Giant is Giving for Youth Wellness

The growing national crusade against childhood obesity now has another deep-pocketed ally in Target, the retailing giant, which just announced a big-dollar commitment for 2016 to keep kids moving and grooving the way they do in the store's quirky, watchable TV ads. 

The summer TV spot with the pop jingle we can't get out of heads asks, "Whatcha gonna do when you get outta here? I'm gonna have some fun. What do you consider fun? Fun, natural fun." Well, the Minneapolis-based retail giant thinks that natural fun includes running, jumping, fresh air and healthy servings of fruits and vegetables, and it's pledged $40 million to nonprofits that agree. Poor eating habits, sedentary lifestyles, overweight kids and shorter life expectancies define this generation of American youth, and there is a movement afoot to do something about it.

As we've often reported, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is far and away the top funder in the youth wellness space, with commitments against childhood obesity now totaling $1 billion. But this area is also a draw for other funders, including those at the local level who see better parks and recreational opportunities as a key to healthier kids. We also see a growing interest in healthy food among funders dovetailing in places with the push against childhood obesity. 

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Target Corp. is interested and has significant resources—as well as the reach of a retail empire that boasts nearly 1,800 stores. Target is a longtime supporter of education, and it let everybody know last fall that it was redirecting its philanthropy toward nonprofits whose missions combine health and wellness for young people and families. Its holistic approach is summed up in its philosophy, "Wellness begins where people live, learn, work and play."  

These days, this view sums up the thinking of a lot public health funders, who are keen to affect the broader lifestyle choices and physical environments that shape the health of Americans—without losing sight of the crucial levers of exercise and diets. 

Related: Next Up for Target's Philanthropy: Youth Wellness Grants

Spokeswoman Angie Thompson says, "We’ve focused our efforts where we can deliver the greatest impact by partnering with organizations on programs specifically designed to help overcome the barriers to wellness … and that help increase consumption of nutrient dense foods and increase physical activity."  

What's missing in many young American's lives—besides proper foods—is access to recreational programs that will inspire them. Affordability is another hurdle, and so the nonprofits that partner with Target Corp. will do the legwork in their communities. Its newly announced "Wellness Partners" specialize in play and food preparation, and include:

  • The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which works to increase healthy food options in schools, as well as more physical activity.  
  • KaBOOM!, which builds play spaces in cities across the country. (Target is looking for innovative and replicable designs for cities to make play "fun, easy and accessible.")
  • Common Threads, which works with underserved kids and families to provide hands-on cooking and nutrition education. 

You can see a full list of Target's Wellness Partners here to get a broader sense of how it's approaching this grantmaking area. The grantees are a diverse set of small and large nonprofits that run a wide scope of programs.

It's worth stressing that Target hasn't moved too far away from its earlier focus on education, as quite a few of its new partners work in or around schools. And, of course, the larger focus on youth endures. 

Angie Thompson tells us that while wellness is the signature focus for its corporate social responsibility, "We’ll continue to focus on youth, through the lens of wellness, whether through in-school or out of school or related community programming." 

Target's message to its customers has always been "we get you." And it sees this initiative as a reflection of that. "We've done significant research and know that wellness is a priority for our guest," Thompson says. "This is an area that we believe we can impact both from a business perspective through our product offerings in addition to our efforts in local communities."