2018 Progress Report

A Look Back at Five Years of Progress of Voices for Healthy Kids


In 2013, the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched Voices for Healthy Kids, an innovative advocacy initiative with the monumental goal of reversing childhood obesity through policy change in disproportionately affected areas. Over time, the initiative evolved and, today, it focuses on promoting health equity, building a culture of health and making each day healthier for all children.

Ensuring health equity means making healthier options more accessible and affordable for all families. By championing public policies eliminating junk food marketing in schools, increasing access to healthier foods, and improving walking paths and other places for safe physical activity and more, Voices for Healthy Kids is elevating the health and wellness of children nationwide. The results speak for themselves — from campaign funding and technical assistance to policy wins and community impact.

We influenced policies that have increased access to healthier foods and beverages for people in 25 communities and the state of Louisiana. We supported funding for grocery store creation and expansion, and the purchase of healthy foods in low-income areas in Austin, Texas; Seattle, Washington, and throughout California and Michigan. We worked to ensure that only healthy beverages like water and milk —not sugary drinks —are the default options in kids’ meals at restaurants in Lafayette, Colorado; Baltimore, Maryland, and all of California. We also backed regulations that improved standards of early care for children in Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont and Washington.

Thanks to our advocacy, New York City schools have higher quality physical education with better reporting and curriculum, while in Minnesota, Nevada and Massachusetts, streets and paths are safer for walking, biking and rolling.

We look forward to the future. Together, we will continue to empower our allies and advocates to ensure that every child is healthy, happy and on the path to a bright future.


Nancy Brown
Chief Executive Officer
American Heart Association

By the Numbers 2013-2018


  • 167

    campaigns funded

  • $25,631,020 $25,631,020

    in grants given

Increasing Impact

  • 144

    policy wins

  • 50%*

    increased chance of passing a state policy with Voices for Healthy Kids support

    *Bleich, Sara N, et al. The Voices for Healthy Kids Campaign and US State Legislation to Prevent Childhood Obesity. American Journal of Public Health: March 2016, Vol. 106, No. 3: 436-439

  • 167,508,818 167,508,818

    people affected by Voices for Healthy Kids policy wins

Building a Movement

  • 26

    organizations leading policy priorities in a Strategic Advisory Committee

  • 140+

    organizations collaborating in the initiative

  • 84,000 84,000

    Voices for Healthy Kids Action Center online grassroots advocates

Training and Resources

  • 18

    advocacy toolkits created

  • 16

    national message research projects

  • 15,750 15,750

    advocacy toolkits disseminated to field

  • 2,500 2,500

    requests for skills building, planning, and consultation (technical assistance)

A Selection of Highlights from 5 Years of Progress

Indian Country

Improving the Health of the Nation’s Native American and Alaska Native Populations

The release of the Seeds of Native Health Semi-Annual Report by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community reminds us again of the significant challenges to the health and well-being of Native peoples. Arguably, no set of domestic policies implemented by the United States since the nation’s founding has had a greater detrimental impact on the health of a population of people than this nation’s Indian policies. These policies have resulted in the loss of culture, language, and the ancestral lands and traditional diets that had nourished Native Americans for eons.

In an attempt to address the significant levels of food insecurity that existed on and around the nation’s Indian reservations, the United States government created and implemented food distribution programs, under which they would provide Native Americans with a variety of foods[1]. However, this came with its own significant problems. A 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that the program provided two times the required total grains and only about half of the fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy amounts to meet dietary recommendations[2].

The health and social impacts of these policies and programs are truly staggering. According to the American Indian Cancer Foundation, the nation’s Native American population was once among the healthiest people in the world, but today the opposite is true. It’s estimated that more than 80 percent of adult Native Americans are overweight or obese[3]. More than 15 percent of Native Americans suffer from type-2 diabetes, more than double the rate among Caucasians[4]. American Indians and Alaska Natives have a life expectancy that is about four years less than the general U.S. population (all race/ethnicities), and they have higher rates of mortality from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes[5].

Grassroots advocates have been working for a number of years to reverse these trends. Some tribes, public health officials and local advocates have taken important steps to improve access to healthier foods and to reintroduce native culture to local diets. These localized efforts have recently been infused with new attention, energy and funding to help further raise awareness of the problem, create opportunities for positive change and develop long-term solutions. Two developments, in particular, are notable.

First, Voices for Healthy Kids, commissioned Feeding Ourselves, a landmark report released in 2015, surveying the state of Native American food access and health disparities. The report issued a call to action for greater investment in food and dietary health work to benefit Native peoples.

Second, at almost the same time, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) launched Seeds of Native Health, a multifaceted national campaign to improve Native American nutrition. The SMSC, a tribe in Minnesota, is known for its leading role in philanthropy in Indian Country. Because they had developed a wellness program for their own members, created an organic farm and operate a healthy food market, the SMSC first-hand experience inspired them to commit $10 million over four years to the campaign. Seeds of Native Health includes grant-making, sharing of best practices, capacity-building, sponsored research, and educational initiatives.

Voices for Healthy Kids became an early strategic partner in the SMSC’s Seeds campaign. The tribe and Voices for Healthy Kids collaborated to organize two national convenings: Fertile Ground (2015) and Fertile Ground II (2016). The first was a roundtable of 41 philanthropic organizations from across the country to discuss the needs and opportunities to invest in Native nutrition and food access work. The second brought together nearly 200 Native leaders, Native youth advocates, and national philanthropic organizations and focused on creating a roadmap for Native-led policy changes to improve health and nutrition.

And the collaboration involving the SMSC and Voices for Healthy Kids continues and deepens. In 2017-18, the SMSC’s Seeds of Native Health and Voices for Healthy Kids co-funded a new re-granting program to support innovative nutrition-based, health-focused advocacy efforts in Native American communities. The American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF), which was Created in 2012 seven years ago to address the growing cancer burdens among Native Americans, served as the grant administrator and provided technical assistance for the five grantees of the Fertile Ground Grant Program. Kris Rhodes, AICAF’s CEO, said that the grants were designed to support community conversations to build a foundation for the creation and implementation of policies that will improve access to healthy, indigenous foods. That initial effort created a lot of enthusiasm among tribes and other Native advocates and leaders.

Understanding the needs of Native advocates and leaders to build and advance community was the subject of an Indian County Technical Assistance assessment. Conducted and produced by Echo Hawk Consulting, the TA assessment delved into the collective wisdom of Native community health and food advocates about the types of technical assistance and capacity building that is needed to support their important work. It includes capacity building needs, training and technical assistance, including fundraising topics, and describes characteristics and examples of positive technical assistance and training experiences.

These learnings helped to shape and inform two Fertile Ground Leadership Institutes implemented in the Summer of 2018. Sponsored by Voices for Healthy Kids and the Shakopee Tribe, the Leadership Institutes provided participants with training and sessions to deepen their understanding of the root causes of the challenges to health and wellness in Indian Country and to position participants to build a skill set to plan campaigns for policy shifts that improve the living conditions for all.Deepening our commitment and working to address these crucial issues is key to Voices for Healthy Kids and the American Heart Association. The new, Phase 2 of re-granting is being launched as the Fertile Ground Advocacy Campaign that will support Native-led advocacy efforts to advance new policies and innovative policy making approaches that will benefit Native American nutrition and health — access to healthy food; reductions in sugary beverages and food, and food sovereignty work rooted in tradition, culture and Indigenous knowledge.

While the health problems linked to the nation’s Indian policies are not easily addressed, change is starting to happen, change that gives Rhodes and others confidence in the future. “My hope is that 100 years from now Native people have access to indigenous foods, they know how to harvest those foods, there is a robust native foods economy within tribal communities and ultimately we will once again be the healthiest people in the world,” she said.

[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Services. Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. Nutrition Program Fact Sheet, 2018. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/fdpir/pfs-fdpir.pdf.

[2] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Services. FDPIR Food Package Nutritional Quality: Report to Congress, 2008. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/ops/FDPIR_FoodPackage.pdf.

[3] Indian Health Service. Healthy Weight for Life: A Vision for Healthy Weight Across the Lifespan of American Indians and Alaska Natives, Actions for Health Care Teams and Leaders. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Indian Health Service, 2011. https://www.ihs.gov/healthyweight/includes/themes/newihstheme/display_objects/documents/HW4L_TeamsLeaders.pdf.

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services; 2017. http://www.diabetes.org/assets/pdfs/basics/cdc-statistics-report-2017.pdf

[5] Indian Health Service. Indian Health Disparities. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Indian health Service, 2017. https://www.ihs.gov/newsroom/includes/themes/responsive2017/display_objects/documents/factsheets/Disparities.pdf.

Strategic Advisory Committee

  • Afterschool Alliance
  • Alliance for a Healthier Generation
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
  • American Heart Association
  • Center for Science in the Public Interest
  • ChangeLab Solutions
  • Child Care Aware of America
  • Healthy Eating Research
  • Healthy Food America
  • MomsRising
  • National Alliance on Hispanic Health
  • Nemours
  • Physical Activity Research Center
  • Public Health Law Center
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  • Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity
  • Safe Routes to School National Partnership
  • Salud! America
  • UT Health Science Center San Antonio
  • SHAPE America
  • The Food Trust
  • The Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing
  • The Praxis Project
  • UnidosUS
  • YMCA of the USA

What’s Next?

Reflecting on our progress over the past five years, we are optimistic about what the future holds. Building on previous successes, 2018 marked yet another year of big wins and inspiring progress. We’ve taken a large step in the right direction to provide opportunities for all children to eat healthier, increase their physical activity and improve their all-around health.
But we still have work to do. With the support of our network, allies, strategic advisory committee and many more, we strive to continue the success and momentum of the past five years as we improve the health of generations to come.

We’re grateful for and motivated by every single one of the hundreds of thousands of advocates who have joined our cause and commitment to building a culture of health. Each signature, email, and voice mattered and helped make a difference in children’s lives.

Join us in making each day healthier for all children at VoicesforHealthyKids.org.