Public Release: 

USDA awards $6.6 million to combat childhood obesity

National Institute of Food and Agriculture

WASHINGTON, D.C. June 1, 2017 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced more than $6.6 million for 10 grants to combat childhood obesity, a public health issue that affects one in five school-aged children. The funding is made possible through NIFA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

"Healthy habits start with families," said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. "With these NIFA investments, we are helping at-risk families make lifestyle changes that will add up to a lifetime of better health for their children."

AFRI is America's flagship competitive grants program for foundational and translational research, education, and extension projects in the food and agricultural sciences. The AFRI Childhood Obesity Prevention Challenge Area supports projects to gain a better understanding of the factors behind childhood weight gain, to develop and expand effective interventions, and to train more parents, caregivers, and educators to promote childhood obesity prevention.

Fiscal year 2016 grants include:

  • University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska, $148,163

  • University of Connecticut, Mansfield, Connecticut, $149,996

  • New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York, $800,000

  • Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, $800,000

  • North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina $988,645

  • Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, $150,000

  • Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $978,383

  • University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, $900,000

  • Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee, $800,000

  • American University, Washington, D.C., $900,000

Among these FY16 projects is an online educational program offered by Rutgers University to help parents promote healthy eating and home environments among preschool-age children. Vanderbilt University will develop and test a smartphone application that provides culturally appropriate shopping and nutrition education for low-income women with young children.

More information on these projects is available on the NIFA website.

To date, NIFA has invested more than $168 million through the AFRI Childhood Obesity Prevention Challenge Area.

Among previously funded projects, Colorado State University is conducting an education and extension project to improve health behaviors of 4-year-old children in five Head Start centers across eastern Colorado. The project measures preschoolers' willingness to try new foods and encourages more physical activity. Researchers are also developing mobile applications to improve parent-child interaction related to healthy eating and exercise. Among results to date, the program has trained 57 Head Start educators, it has also increased preschoolers' motor skills and prevented weight gain in children who were overweight or obese at the beginning of the program.

A Cornell University project is improving the lunch room experience by examining how environmental changes affect the selection and consumption of fruits and vegetables. Researchers analyzed consumption patterns by using tray waste data at 24 urban, rural, and suburban middle school cafeterias in New York State. Study finding suggest that environmental changes - such as decorating the cafeteria with healthy food posters, or offering vegetables at every service area - could result in a greater increase in selection and consumption of healthy items such as fruits, vegetables, and milk. By helping children develop better eating habits at school, this project can help reduce calorie intake and improve nutrition.

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension and promotes transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges. NIFA's integrated research, education and extension programs support the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel whose work results in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate climate variability, and ensure food safety. To learn more about NIFA's impact on agricultural science, visit, sign up for email updates or follow us on Twitter @USDA_NIFA, #NIFAimpacts.


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