Why the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation Targets Behavioral Causes of Diabetes

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation is all about helping children. But how the foundation facilitates this help depends largely on where they're living. In India, for example, the foundation's focus is on childhood malnutrition. Unicef estimates that about half of all childhood deaths in the country are attributable to malnutrition. (See Dell Foundation: Grants for Diseases.)

Of course, the United States faces the opposite problem — and Dell's funding at home varies accordingly. Two-thirds of American children are overweight or obese, and the rise in childhood obesity has been accompanied by a marked increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children. This disease was once extremely rare among kids, but today several thousand new cases arise each year. Some health officials are calling it an epidemic.

The Dell Foundation has focused its efforts on the causes of these health issues to help prevent them from happening in the first place. And it usually supports programs that address childhood obesity, rather than diabetes specifically. (Read Dell Executive Director Janet Mountain's IP profile.)

For example, Dell gave $3.3 million to the CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) program in El Paso, Texas, to promote exercise and healthy eating among elementary school children. This long-standing project focuses on promoting behavioral change to encourage healthy choices among children.

Dell also provides smaller grants to regional programs that promote exercise and healthy eating. The foundation gave more than $625,000 to the Sustainable Food Center (SFC) in Austin, Texas, to help give kids access to inexpensive and healthy food. The SFC also holds community events such as the Be Well Walk, to which the foundation contributed $5,000 in 2011.

The Dell Foundation sees preventive care as a key element in fighting childhood obesity and diabetes. Many of its gifts aim to increase access to health care in underserved regions. In 2010, the foundation gave nearly $1 million to help create the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity. The obesity center provides treatment to a community in need, but it also strives to prevent obesity through advocacy and community engagement.

The Dell Foundation even helped pay for HBO's Weight of the Nation documentary with a $4.8 million gift.