Pritzker gift to fund possible solutions for child obesity including testing YMCA programs

Gift includes scholarships for HSPH students and new professorship in related fields

To address the national and global epidemic of childhood obesity, Harvard College alumna Penny Pritzker '81 and her husband, Bryan Traubert, have pledged $5 million to Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) to fund the nationwide application of a childhood exercise and nutrition program that has been piloted by HSPH and the YMCA.

Additionally, the gift will underpin a scholarship fund for HSPH students pursuing obesity-related studies in several disciplines and will also establish an endowment to support a new permanent junior professorship at HSPH in obesity-related research.

The three-pronged effort, to be called The Donald and Sue Pritzker Nutrition and Fitness Initiative, will be directed by HSPH faculty members Steven Gortmaker, Professor of the Practice of Health Sociology in the Department of Society, Human Development and Health, and Frank Hu, Associate Professor in the Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology. The initiative is named in honor of Ms. Pritzker's parents.

The gift from Pritzker and Traubert, who is a member of HSPH's Visiting Committee, will emphasize an effort to address childhood obesity in urban poor and minority communities. A portion will be used to fund an innovative research project being conducted with the nation's YMCAs to determine if an after-school program based on HSPH's Planet Health curriculum yields significant, measurable improvements in diet, physical activity, and reduced obesity for children.

Childhood obesity is a dramatic public health problem that will require a society-wide solution. More than 16 percent of children in the U.S. are overweight. Overweight children are more likely to become obese as adults. Because they are overweight, children and teens carry risk factors for America's most debilitating chronic diseases from diabetes to heart disease. Certain ethnic groups, including African Americans and Hispanics who live in large numbers in the poorest sections of U.S. cities, are at greatest risk for obesity-related type 2 diabetes, and their rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes are rising rapidly.

The YMCA research project, led by Gortmaker and Jean Wiecha, a senior research scientist at HSPH, will measure the effectiveness of the after-school program in a wide variety of YMCA after-school sites over the next three years, compared to a similar-sized control group of children at sites not participating in the program.

YMCAs in the U.S. are comprised of nearly 2,600 local associations, serving 20.1 million Americans each year in 10,000 communities. More than 10 percent of all children in school age child care in the U.S. are in a YMCA program, roughly half from households with annual incomes under $25,000. Harvard School of Public Health has been a partner and advisor to an ongoing national YMCA effort to create breakthrough approaches to health and wellness for youth, adults and families.

The professorship endowment will enable the School to recruit an exceptional faculty member at the assistant or associate professor level who has a strong interest in pursuing innovative ways to slow and reverse the increase of childhood overweight and metabolic syndrome in the U.S. and globally . (Metabolic syndrome is a constellation of interrelated conditions that include overweight, high blood sugars, high blood fats, and high blood pressure. It is linked to increased risk of diabetes and heart and blood vessel disease.)

As a permanent endowment for the School, this portion of the gift can be used to support a junior faculty member for three or more years as he or she is embarking on a career, and then be transferred to another exceptional junior faculty member, supporting his/her early work in the childhood and adult obesity field. Over time, the gift will seed the field with young faculty from a wide variety of disciplines -- from laboratory science to nutrition to social and behavioral sciences and epidemiology and biostatistics -- whose work is addressing the obesity problem.

The scholarship fund is a five-year commitment to provide a total of $1 million for students who are pursuing studies in several disciplines at HSPH that can be brought to bear on the problem of childhood and adult overweight, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

Said HSPH Dean Barry R. Bloom: "The childhood obesity problem in the U.S. is truly a growing epidemic, particularly among minorities and the socio-economically disadvantaged whom YMCAs serve in significant numbers. We at Harvard are enormously gratified by Penny and Bryan's strong commitment to partnering with us in this effort. I believe together we will learn and develop creative approaches that will achieve something truly important and lasting through the HSPH-YMCA project, and we hope it will inspire brilliant, committed students and faculty to pursue this major problem."

"Dean Bloom and Professor Gortmaker will lead an effort to determine if after school intervention is effective and to support young professors and students who will be tomorrow's leaders in this fight," said Penny Pritzker, who is Chairman of her 25th Class Reunion Giving from Harvard College. Pritzker is chairman of Classic Residence by Hyatt, president of the Pritzker Realty Group, and also on the Board of Overseers at Harvard.

"Penny and I believe the Harvard School of Public Health initiative can make an impact on this complicated and troubling health issue," said Traubert, who is an ophthalmologist.

Said Prof. Gortmaker, who will co-direct the initiative: "After-school programs are underutilized and understudied settings for preventing and reducing overweight among children. This generous gift provides us with a unique opportunity to understand the impact of innovative YMCA programs in sites throughout the United States. Reversing the overweight epidemic in this country will require consistent changes in children's diet and physical activity throughout their lives. Our collaborative effort with the YMCA illustrates how wide scale change can happen on this important health issue."

"For decades, YMCAs have been building kids strong in spirit, mind and body during the after-school hours. Our YMCA Activate America initiative is taking this commitment to a whole new level by incorporating and modeling healthy habits in all facets of our after-school programs," said Kenneth L. Gladish, PhD, president and CEO of YMCA of the USA.

"Through the generosity of Ms. Pritzker and Dr. Traubert, the YMCA and Harvard School of Public Health can continue to work together to rigorously evaluate the success of our Activate America strategy in making real change in the lives of children in America's most under-resourced neighborhoods, where the compounding effects of poverty on our children's health are most devastating."

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Additional Press Contact:
YMCA of the USA
Contact: Kevin Shermach
(312) 419-8374
kevin.shermach@ymca.net

Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public's health through learning, discovery, and communication. More than 300 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 900-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children's health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights. For more information on the school visit: www.hsph.harvard.edu

YMCAs build strong kids, strong families and strong communities. YMCA of the USA is the national resource office for the nation's 2,594 YMCAs, collectively the nation's largest not-for-profit community service organization, serving more than 20 million people of all faiths, races, ages, incomes and abilities, including more than 9 million children. YMCAs offer a broad range of programs including youth leadership and volunteerism and are collectively the nation's largest providers of afterschool child care. Visit http://www.ymca.net/.


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