Seed Grant Award: Moving Towards Anti-Racist Systems and Policies to Reduce Childhood Obesity

Jennifer Woo Baidal, Pediatrics; Elena Ladas, Pediatrics and Epidemiology; John Rausch, Pediatrics

Series Overview
Racial and ethnic disparities in childhood obesity are apparent within the first years of life. Children living in Washington Heights and Inwood, predominantly Latino neighborhoods served by Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), carry a disproportionately high burden of overweight and obesity, with nearly 1 in 2 school-aged children impacted. Inequities in obesity and subsequent chronic disease are rooted in racist policies and systems that limit access to affordable and healthy foods; allow targeted marketing of calorically-dense, nutrient-poor foods to Black and Brown communities; preclude access to green spaces for physical activity; increase poverty and income inequality; and create barriers to health care access.

In July 2020, the Department of Pediatrics announced a new Pediatric Obesity Initiative. The focus of this initiative is timely given the evidence of the role of social determinants of health in the development of both obesity and COVID-19; a role for adverse health effects of obesity on COVID-19 health outcomes; heightened awareness of racism and racial injustice in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality; and exacerbation of poverty from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Initiative is relevant to this seed funding because anti-racist systems and policies are requisite to reversing the epidemic of childhood obesity among disproportionately burdened populations. The goal of the programming is to create an event series that will ultimately lead to local action at Columbia University, CUIMC, and its surrounding communities to reduce childhood obesity. 

The objectives of the series are to: 1) Stimulate a dialogue on systems and policies that perpetuate racial and ethnic disparities starting early in life and 2) Develop action-oriented innovations that could ultimately lead to anti-racist policies and systems to achieve child health equity through reduction of obesity in childhood.          

This project was funded through the Addressing Racism: A Call to Action for Higher Education initiative of the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement.