Loyola Marymount University (LMU) has received a $895,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for a five-year evaluation of policy changes in 20 states designed to reduce childhood obesity in Latino, African American and Native American communities. Professor Cheryl Grills, chair of the university’s Department of Psychology, announced the grant October 8th,

“Even schools that provide meals to our children are contributing to obesity problems,” said Grills. “We will be evaluating how the communities in 20 states implement policy changes designed to reverse this trend. We will be assessing whether the policies are successful and what benchmarks can be seen over time in the health statistics of children of color.”

Responding to sharp rises in obesity among children in low-income and ethnic neighborhoods, many government and community agencies are developing policies designed to reduce environmental factors that contribute to excessive weight gain, according to Grills.

Experts point to the scarcity of supermarkets offering healthy food choices in poor neighborhoods, the concentration of fast-food restaurants and the lack of access to fitness centers and recreation space as contributing to the problem.

The study will attempt to determine whether the new policies affect the eating habits of children in the targeted communities.

The study will be conducted by LMU’s new Psychology Applied Research Center (LMU-PARC), which focuses on issues involved in social change including education, housing, land use and healthcare reform.

In addition to program evaluation, the new department will provide technical assistance and strategic planning for the foundation and to communities that are attempting to create healthier environments.