This Funder is Attacking Childhood Obesity in Boston by Starting Early. Really Early

Everyone loves to pinch the squishy cheeks of an adorable, chubby baby. But sometimes all that baby fat doesn’t melt away with age, and then it’s not so cute anymore.

Obesity now affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the U.S., but this isn’t just an American problem anymore. It’s becoming a global issue too, and according to the World Health Organization, 42 million children under age five are either overweight or obese. In developing countries with emerging economies (classified by the World Bank as lower- and middle-income countries) the rate of increase of childhood overweight and obesity has been more than 30 percent higher than that of developed countries.

The Boston Foundation (TBF) recently committed $625,000 to fund a Massachusetts General Hospital study about reducing obesity and overweight risk in mothers and children between conception and 24 months of age. This is a five-year investment to develop, implement, and support early intervention programs and resources during this crucial time period of childhood. The program is called First 1,000 Days, and everyone including OB/GYNs, pediatric physicians and the WIC federal grant program are getting involved.

It drew our attention because, while we've written a ton about what funders are doing to fight childhood obesity, we've never seen an effort starting this early in the life cycle. And the range of players involved is pretty interesting. 

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Along with this First 1,000 Days grant, TBF awarded a $300,000 grant to the Kraft Center for Community Health to design an the intervention program by a diverse group of stakeholders in the Boston area.

“The First 1,000 Days study has the opportunity to create an entirely new coordinated strategy for changing the lifelong health and wellness trajectory for our youngest residents, setting the course for gains in education and other critical areas later in life,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation.

This grant falls perfectly in line with TBF’s overall health and wellness initiative grantmaking strategy. It’s a foundation goal to reduce the number of Boston children who are overweight and obese from today's 44 percent to 40 percent by 2015.

These statistics show that although Boston is a national leader in healthcare excellence, the city most certainly isn’t immune to the obesity crisis. Other TBF childhood obesity strategies include funding programs that increase the availability of fresh foods and physical exercise and removing the sales tax exemption for sugary beverages.

Local funders have a key role to play in combating childhood obesity, because they're often close to the institutions on the ground can can change behavior and diets. 


The focus of TBF's recent grants and its latest program is on the Boston metropolitan area, but the results of the effort have far wider implications. There aren’t too many anti-obesity programs out there for the birth-to-two demographic, so if successful, it could serve as a much-needed model for other major metropolitan areas and rural communities. Childhood obesity rates have tripled since just a generation ago, and lots of places have some serious work to do.