Funders for Youth Nutrition: A Growing Trend in the Quest for Food Equity

Food and nutrition are being viewed more and more through the equity lens, and this seems particularly true for child nutrition. Over the past decade, attention to addressing childhood obesity and diet-related diseases for children has increased in the U.S., as the country has had to face the fact that these problems will only multiply if they are not addressed. The government’s own estimates are that, by 2030 when the current obesity generation is grown up, 42% of Americans will be obese, with total costs for increased medical care and lost productivity estimated at $1 trillion dollars.

A number of important initiatives to address child nutrition have been gaining steam recently. In 2012, for example, Newman’s Own committed $5 million to grant-making in child nutrition. In the past decade, other big foundations like Robert Wood Johnson, Kellogg, and Ford have also been increasing their giving in this arena.Eye_home_2

By far the most prominent player in this area is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It has funded an estimated 277 grants to address childhood nutrition since 2003, with many of them being in the million dollar range. One of RWJF’s largest grants in child nutrition in 2013 was for $1.8 million. It went to the University of North Carolina’s medical school, for the purpose of getting technical assistance and direction for the Foundation’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities initiative called Supporting Community Action to Prevent Childhood Obesity.

Connected to this, RWJF gave the Momsrising Education Fund of Bellevue, Washington, $1.13 million in 2013 for the purpose of “strategic communications support” for the foundation’s efforts to “reverse the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015.”

RWJF also gave over $9.6 million in 2013 to the American Heart Association National Office for the purpose of building and supporting infrastructure in the quest to advance policies that address the root causes of the childhood obesity epidemic. The American Heart Association also got another $1.27 million from the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund in 2013 for the purpose of technical assistance for the Healthy Way to Grow program.

In 2015, RWJF gave the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies a grant for $450,000 for the purpose of helping states implement the new federal Child Care and Development Block Grant program, and “elevate health, nutrition, and prevention of childhood obesity in overall state plans.”

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is also a significant funder in this arena. In 2012 and 2013, it gave the Tides Center in San Francisco over $3.5 million for the purpose of expanding the Farm to School program, particularly for early childhood efforts that benefit vulnerable children. These funds helped the Farm to School program provide training and technical assistance to schools and early child-care providers, helping to inform practices and build better food and nutrition policies.

Sometimes in youth grantmaking, child nutrition is one part of a more comprehensive program to provide healthy living support to youth. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has put significant funding into a more comprehensive approach to child health in 2013 with two grants for a total of over $5.7 million to the Genesee Area Focus Fund. This child health initiative has a six-pronged focus: “academic support, enrichment activities, physical fitness and healthy behaviors, nutrition education, youth development and leadership skill building, and family and community engagement.”

The General Mills Foundation also makes a significant number of grants for child nutrition across the country. These grants are relatively small, with most being in the $5,000 to $10,000 range.

In the landscape of programs with a national focus on nutrition, the National Farm to School Network has been a significant and longstanding provider in this arena. This network, started in 1996, has grown to over 40,000 schools in all 50 states. The network helps with procurement of local foods, facilitating student activities in agriculture, food and nutrition, and engages students in hands-on learning through gardening. Some of its funders include the Kellogg Foundation, the Johnson Family Foundation, the Orfalia Foundation, and the Claneil Foundation.

An important new service initiative called FoodCorps has been ramping up recently. Started in 2010, this AmeriCorps-based program now has 205 service members in the field, each working at one to three low-income public schools, in an effort to transform school food environments with healthy food prep lessons and salad bars in the cafeteria, gardens in the school yards, and nutrition education in the classroom. FoodCorps receives funding from a wide array of funders with some of its most significant recent funding coming from the New Profit Innovation Fund, the Walmart Foundation, and Kellogg. FoodCorps started with a budget of about $200,000 a year, and is now up to a budget of $10.8 million a year.

Another major program in the school food and nutrition arena is the Whole Kids Foundation, started by the Whole Foods Company in 2011. This foundation provides grants and education tools for teachers and collaborates with other nonprofits to purchase salad bars for schools, helping to establish 1,263 salad bars in 2013. It provides specific grant-writing tips for its garden grant applicants, and collaborates with Saladbars2schools.org to do the grant-making for salad bars. It also provides training for teaching nutrition in schools, cafeteria tools and recipes, and hands-on projects for kids to increase their nutritional awareness. On the nutrition front, Whole Foods has also setup the Whole Cities Foundation, which is “dedicated to supporting efforts that bring fresh, nutritious food and broader access to healthy eating education to underserved communities.”

There are many more family and community foundations doing grant-making work in child nutrition, so as a grant seeker it is worthwhile to look beyond the big funders and into those local foundations supporting healthy eating and nutrition programs for youth.

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About Kiersten Marek 22 Articles
Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is a clinical social worker in Rhode Island, and a Senior Editor for Los Angeles-based Inside Philanthropy, where she writes about economic and social philanthropy. Kiersten is also the author of Know Thyself: A Kid's Guide to the Archetypes, an identity development workbook.