WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) reintroduced the Reducing Obesity in Youth Act, which would work to prevent childhood obesity by establishing a grant program to improve healthy eating and physical activity among young children.

Data demonstrates the depth of the challenge of childhood obesity and the importance of addressing obesity at an early age: according to a 2014 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a third of children who were overweight in kindergarten were obese by eighth grade and remained obese. Furthermore, between 2015 and 2016, obesity for kids between the ages of two and five years old increased from nine to fourteen percent, the highest increase since 1999. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the health of children and families in many ways, including that it may increase the likelihood of unhealthy weight gain among children as many families are forced to shift to less costly, high-calorie foods rather than fresh foods like fruits and vegetables.

“We know that the choices our children make in their earliest years when it comes to healthy eating and exercise will impact them throughout their lives,” said Senator Booker. “This bill will empower communities to work together to prevent childhood obesity and help our children build lifelong healthy habits.”

“I have been disheartened that Tennessee has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the nation,” said Congressman Cohen. “The national childhood obesity rate is dangerously high but, in recent years, Tennessee has trended even higher than the national average. These already challenging circumstances have only been exacerbated by the ongoing public health crisis, which has had serious impacts on the health and well-being of children and families. Fortunately, research has shown that early childhood is an important time for developing positive dietary and physical activity behaviors. I am pleased to partner with Senator Booker to introduce the Reducing Obesity in Youth Act that would encourage and support these positive behaviors. The House and Senate bills being introduced today would create a competitive grant program to incentivize the development of earlier health and nutrition education environments for our children. We have to help our children get healthy starts so they can lead healthy lives.”

“The pandemic has compounded the stressors on children and families. ROYA would help to bolster efforts to support access to nutritious foods at a critical time in a critical place,” said Dr. Kara Walker, Senior Vice President and Chief Population Health Officer for Nemours Children’s Health System. “Nemours has shown that by incorporating a focus on healthy eating and physical activity into early care and education settings, we can support the development of healthful habits. We applaud Senator Booker and Congressman Cohen for introducing legislation that builds upon Nemours’ pioneering work and would benefit children and families across the country.”

Specifically, the Reducing Obesity in Youth Act (ROYA) would do the following:

  • Create a five-year competitive grant program to local entities to improve healthy eating and physical activity among young children in early care and education environments.
  • Integrate the promotion of healthy eating (including early feeding best practices), physical activity, and screen time reduction into existing early care and education State programs by requiring local grantees to use funding to provide training, technical assistance, and resources to implementing partners.
  • Allow the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use a portion of the funding to enter into contracts with institutions of higher education, nonprofit organizations, or other entities with relevant monitoring and surveillance expertise to track State progress in obesity prevention policies.

ROYA is endorsed by Nemours Children’s Health System

The full text of the bill can be viewed here.