Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the obesity challenge is the impact it is having on America’s children. About one-third of American children are overweight and approximately 20 percent are considered obese. Physicians report they are seeing the development of weight-related diseases traditionally found primarily among adults in children – ranging from diabetes, to hypertension, to cardio-vascular disease.

Today’s children face two big hurdles in trying to avoid obesity: Too much energy (or calories) in, and not enough energy expended through physical activity.

Busy parents find it difficult to make sure their kids are getting the balanced meals they need, with the burden generally falling on moms working hard both at home and at a full-time job. Family dinners characterized by conversation between parents and children are becoming increasingly rare. Snacks have become the same size as meals, and individual portions have grown out of proportion.

For previous generations of children, being physically active – running around, playing in the neighborhood, skipping rope or going for a swim – came with the territory. But today, many parents concerned about their children’s safety keep them from parks, playgrounds and sports fields. Many U.S. municipalities and school districts are unable to afford an adequate parks and recreation budget. Few schools in the United States provide physical education or its equivalent for the entire school year - less than 4 percent of elementary schools, less than 8 percent of middle schools, and just over 2 percent of high schools. And of course, sedentary activities like video games, the Internet and television provide a powerful lure for many children, drawing them away from the physical activity that is essential to growing healthy bodies.

For these reasons, the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation has made it a priority to focus on children ages 6-11, grades K-6. The emphasis is on lifelong physical activity and positive nutrition habits..

Energy Balance 101

Energy Balance 101 ( is one of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation’s prime vehicles for promoting wellness, encouraging energy balance (balancing calories in and out) and countering obesity among children. This free, website-based program for teachers, students, families and communities is funded by HWCF and provided in partnership with Discovery Education, the global leader in nonfiction media. The engaging EB 101 curriculum – jointly developed by the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, Discovery Education, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), and pediatric dietitians – gives educators and parents the tools they need to help combat childhood obesity. That includes lesson plans, resources, and videos aligned to state standards, for the K-2 and 3-5 grade bands.  The entire curriculum can be integrated into classroom instruction, but is also flexible enough that teachers can use the entire scope of resources or select the elements that best fit their needs.  

Resources for teachers include standards-based lessons, hands-on activities and videos. Families can access fun activities, interactive tools, and simple tips.

Through Discovery Education’s network, Energy Balance 101 curriculum is available for free to all the elementary schools in the United States and was distributed to half of them through Discovery’s network, helping teachers and administrators teach students about the value of an active healthy lifestyle and practical ways of achieving it. More than 1,000 classrooms have activated the full curriculum, reaching an estimated 27,000 students. As well, individual curriculum components have been the subject of more than 5,000 downloads. Page views increased nine-fold during the Fall of 2010, with over 300,000 total page views and over 150,000 site visits.   

In January 2011, winners were announced in the Healthy Playground Makeover Sweepstakes, which had attracted more than 22,000 entries from schools across the country (most with more than 70 percent of their student population qualifying for free or reduced lunch). The Grand Prize went to St. Thomas More School in Littleton, Colorado, whose playground was recently condemned by local officials. The school will receive $25,000 for new equipment and supply upgrades from Sports Authority, and a $10,000 grant specifically to improve their playground. They will also receive activity watches from Paul Pierce’s The Truth on Health Foundation, to help students track their physical activity.

Energy Balance 101: HealthierUS Schools Challenge

Energy Balance 101 can help a school participate in the HealthierUS Schools Challenge—the voluntary initiative established by USDA in 2004 recognizing schools stepping up to create a healthier environment. 


The “energy in / energy out” approach at the core of the curriculum aligns with the major requirements posed by the Challenge. Plus, EB:101 is flexible for teachers to use and can supplement existing school programs with complete modules or individual lessons on nutrition, PE and goal setting. A new index is being created to clearly establish how the Energy Balance 101 lessons can support a school’s desire to enter the Challenge.  

In addition to the existing supportive curriculum, Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation and Discovery Education will be creating a host of activities and materials to help schools participate. Like the HealthierUS Schools Challenge, where schools demonstrating excellence are eligible for Gold, Silver and, Bronze awards with monetary incentives, the Energy Balance:101 set of tools will include incentives to help schools “go for the Gold, Silver and Bronze.” An exciting student contest, a sweepstakes for “Challenge” participants to achieve a higher level award from USDA and new lesson plans specifically tailored to the Challenge are on deck for August 2011 release.

Support extends into the community with resources for school nutrition professionals, such as planning tools, menu ideas, tracking and measuring digital tools, and promotional materials; material support for ‘Healthy Living Family Nights’ that build support for wellness activities among families and communities; and in-person and training academies to motivate educators to teach students the critical relationship between nutrition and physical activity. These resources will especially help schools in the areas of promoting physical activity and improving nutrition curriculum.

Healthy Schools Partnership

In 2009, HWCF entered into a two-year strategic relationship with the Healthy Schools Partnership to help the Partnership test its theory that one-on-one coaching could promote energy balance. The Partnership had been formed by three national organizations – the American Council on Fitness and Nutrition, the American Dietetic Association Foundation (ADAF) and PE4life – to deploy Registered Dietitians, and PE4Life teachers to combine nutrition and physical education to teach energy balance. HSP was designed to deliver an innovative school-based program that employs gaming, technology and alternatives to traditional PE activities, and at teaching children to balance the calories they consume and the calories they expend. HWCF expanded the program beyond the original Kansas City pilot school to four additional schools in Kansas City and four schools in the Des Moines area. The goal was to provide a prototype and research results that other organizations could build upon to offer combined energy balance programs in their communities.

The research initiative generated important new knowledge, such as the value of communicating with parents and the community, the need to make curriculum relevant to all students, and the importance of working around lack of physical education time in schools (such as active recess programs.)  

The HWCF-backed prototype is scheduled to end this year.  


Positive results from the Healthy Schools Partnership prompted Iowa Business Council members, including Hy-Vee, Inc. (a HWCF member), to launch an Adopt-a-School Challenge with PE4Life. About 30 schools have been adopted in the Des Moines area, toward a goal of 50 schools. The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation continues to fund activities at these schools.

Energy Balance 4 Kids (EB4K)

Building off what it learned from the Healthy Schools Partnership, HWCF is involved in a partnership with the American Dietetic Association Foundation, Playworks and University of California, Berkeley to evaluate the impact of a comprehensive school-based energy balance program over a two-year period for students in grades 3-5.

A two-year trial will be conducted in four schools (and two schools designated for comparison purposes) in a selected community from September 2011 to May 2013. Participating schools will be chosen on the basis of multicultural diversity, proportion of children eligible for school lunch programs, school administration support and stability and the size and number of classes in grades 3-5.

An important element of the program in each of the schools will be a Registered Dietitian who will work with school faculty and staff (in areas such as physical education) to advance the characteristics leading to reduced obesity levels. This includes promoting nutrition education, helping students set relevant goals, increasing opportunities for physical activity (including during recess and in PE classes), creating an environment that promotes energy balance and actively seeking family and stakeholder involvement. The intermediate goal will be to increase knowledge about energy balance, increase time students are physically active, and change behavior. The ultimate goal is to improve students’ BMI and fitness levels. Data from two pilot sites indicate that RD Coach intervention helped achieve increased nutrition knowledge and changed diet (including increased vegetable consumption) and healthier BMI and weights.

The UC Berkeley Center for Weight and Health will evaluate the progress of the designated school communities, measuring changes in such areas as knowledge and attitudes, dietary behaviours, average number of minutes of student physical activity during the school day, fitness levels, BMI, and the school food service and physical activity environment.


The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation is partnering with experts in nutrition education and physical education to support the prototype efforts:

American Dietetic Association Foundation

Discovery Education

National Association for Sport and Physical Education