A Closer Look at RWJF's Hefty Child Obesity Grants to the American Heart Association

We haven’t followed a trail of breadcrumbs this long since my Hansel & Gretel days. We know RWJF gave the American Heart Association $9.8 million in February of 2013, for a year-long push to turn the tide against childhood obesity. We know they made an even bigger gift, $11.7 million, just last week, to further the AHA’s work into 2015.

These are big numbers, big chunks out of RWJF’s 2007 $500 million commitment to childhood obesity. But what’s happening? Where exactly is the money going?

Well, it’s complicated. For starters, though the money is dispensed by RWJF, it is administered by the American Heart Association, one of those mammoth national NGOs that can be hard to crack. Above the surface, the RWJF and AHA’s joint initiative seems to be taking the shape of an AHA program called Voices for Healthy Kids, a fresh new PR campaign to encourage kids and parents to make nutrition and exercise a priority.

Voices for Healthy Kids is more than just PR, however. They have six well-defined policy targets in mind, a sort of divide-and-conquer take on childhood obesity. They are:

  • Improving the nutritional quality of foods and beverages in schools
  • Reducing consumption of sugary beverages
  • Protecting children from marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages
  • Increasing access to affordable healthy foods
  • Increasing access to parks, playgrounds, walking paths, bike lanes, school gyms and other safe  places to be active
  • Increasing children's physical activity levels when they are out of school.

The AHA is partnering with a different organization to help tackle each initiative — the Food Trust for number one, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership for numbers five and six – and underwriting the work their partners are undertaking.

In other words, Voices for Healthy Kids includes a whole lot of grantmaking. Or rather regranting. A giant grant from RWJF, given to AHA, now begets dozens of smaller grants.

There are three grantmaking programs under the Voices for Healthy Kids umbrella, and all seem strikingly attainable and fast-moving. There’s the Open RFA grant, $90,000 or less to fund up to a year’s worth of work furthering childhood obesity advocacy at the state, local, or tribal level; the Rapid Response grant program, $15,000 to $100,000 for super short-term projects that need a monetary “boost” to maximize their impact; and the Strategically Directed Tools grant, a strictly lobbying-specific grant of between $20,000 and $80,000.

Numbers for 2013 aren’t out yet, but even in the program’s infancy—the late days of 2012, when RWJF’s initial $9.8 million had just been banked, and before Voices for Healthy Kids was even a thing—it managed to make nearly $100,000 in grants. That’s a sign of a proactive, quick-moving program, and we’re excited and interested to read up on what they’ve accomplished in 2013.