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Starting Right Initiative

Obesity and poor nutrition are taking a toll on America’s children.  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), pediatric obesity rates have almost tripled since 1980, so that today 12.5 million U.S. children are obese.  Millions more are overweight.  Rising childhood obesity has, in turn, led to growing weight-related health issues for young people. Increasingly, medical providers are diagnosing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes in children and teenagers, although these conditions used to be associated almost exclusively with adults. 

Poor and minority children, who generally endure worse health and have a harder time finding quality health care, are also gaining weight at unprecedented levels and suffering disproportionately from weight-related conditions.  Over 20% of African American and Hispanic children, ages 6-17, are now obese. 

In response to this growing crisis, Children’s Health Fund’s Starting Right Initiative – which receives Signature Philanthropic Support from the Walmart Foundation – works to prevent, treat and reverse childhood obesity and malnutrition in vulnerable low-income communities. This program has achieved long-lasting results, helping families improve diet and exercise and giving children a healthier start.

10-year-old Deon* has battled obesity, asthma and anemia since his first birthday. When the fitness instructor and nutritionist from the South Bronx Health Center’s Health and Fitness Group encouraged Deon to join, he was less than enthusiastic. “I was very shy and I thought nobody was going to like me and that I was going to be laughed at. But, it turns out that everything I did in the group was the best! I learned how to read labels and tell how many calories, fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol are in food. I also learned about aerobic and anaerobic exercises. I started inventing recipes of my own that I share in group. Everybody loves them."

Along with Deon, nearly two-thirds of overweight children who participated in the Health and Fitness Group reduced their body mass index.

Begun over a decade ago in New York City at the South Bronx Health Center, Starting Right aims to empower children and their families with the clinical care, health education, mental health support and community services they need to understand and manage their weight and health. The Starting Right model begins with an enhanced clinical visit to a pediatric primary care provider who identifies overweight and/or obese children as well as those suffering from nutrition-related issues like anemia.

During this and subsequent office visits, the primary care provider offers weight and nutrition education and provides referrals to children who need specialty care for related conditions like pre-diabetes or high blood pressure.

In addition to ensuring high-quality clinical care and health education, the primary care provider also links patients and their family members to further support, which often includes:

  • One-on-one or group nutrition counseling
  • Fitness and exercise programs
  • Group health education activities like cooking classes and supermarket outings

Over the years, the Starting Right Initiative has helped Children's Health Fund:

  • Develop pediatric obesity screening and diagnostic tools (in affiliation with the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City)
  • Train providers to identify and address weight and nutrition challenges
  • Develop provider messaging for primary care practitioners, nutritionists, fitness counselors, mental health specialists and health educators
  • Develop culturally and linguistically-appropriate health education materials for families dealing with weight and nutrition challenges
Healthy Families Making Healthy Choices


10,000 copies of this family guide have been distributed throughout the Children's Health Fund's National Network.

Healthy Families Making Healthy Choices: A Guide to Healthy Eating is available for download in English and Spanish.


In 2011, the Walmart Foundation granted funding that enables the Children's Health Fund to replicate or continue the services of the Starting Right Initiative at seven project locations in our National Network including:

The Starting Right Initiative is a partnership between Children's Health Fund and the Walmart Foundation.