Kidz Bite Back -- leading innovation in obesity prevention (without using the term "obesity")

What if Kidz could lead, and adults would get out of the way?

Photo of Dewey Caruthers
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

As a national expert in teen tobacco prevention, having worked on 'truth' and numerous state 'truth'-style campaigns, I have seen the impact of a teen-led movement. Teens did what adults alone could not do -- reduced tobacco use. I took the best practices of 'truth' and applied them, in an age-appropriate manner, to childhood obesity prevention. Best practices like peer-to-peer communication (moving away from adults lecturing youth, usually wagging an index finger in the process); youth-led grassroots movements; and hard-hitting content that is real (meaning accurate) and in your face. The result is Kidz Bite Back (KBB): A kid-created, kid-led, kid-spread campaign for fourth and fifth graders who educate America on Big Fat Industries (fast food, soft drink, junk food industries), Couch Potato Companies (national TV networks, video game companies) and the basics of living healthy. Students become “Kidz”, who educate their friends, families and neighbors on how Big Fat Industries target children with billions in advertising, marketing and free toys to get them to eat and drink their products in excess – when the only healthy way to consume their products is in moderation. Kidz also educate people on how Couch Potato Companies have literally engineered activity out of children’s lives by encouraging them to sit on the couch watching TV and playing video games – when the only healthy way is to balance sedate activities with more vigorous physical activity.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)



Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Florida

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

St. Petersburg

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Florida

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Florida: Metro areas of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando; Rural area of Altamonte Springs, Cocoa, Port St. Joe, Monticello, Madison; and the state capital Tallahassee. West Virginia: Charleston KBB has been replicated in urban and rural areas. Additionally, most replications have been in schools and afterschool programs where the majority of students are low-income.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Childhood obesity is a problem without a solution. The result: 25% percent of children in the U.S. ages 5 to 10 have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other warning signs of heart disease. And 80% of youth who are overweight at ages 10 to 15 will be obese at age 25. Obesity is worse for minorities, who are disproportionately impacted two to four times as much as whites. This generation of children will be the first in U.S. history to live fewer years than their parents, largely due to obesity. Obesity prevention needs innovation using tobacco prevention strategies - with youth, not adults leading the way. The 'truth' campaign showed teens are more effective in leading change to reduce youth smoking. KBB is showing 4th and 5th graders can be more effective in leading change for families to reduce overconsumption of unhealthy foods -- a nationally significant innovation.

Youth-empowerment and youth leadership are proven to instill a strong sense of self, purpose and belonging -- and Kidz Bite Back (KBB) does it in a unique way.

KBB instills a strong sense of purpose by allowing children to lead a grassroots movement, with their purpose to educate families, friends and communities.  Evaluation results reveal parents, teachers and principals see an increase in students' leadership and presentation skills (which also adds to self-esteem).

KBB instills a sense of belonging with Kidz being part of something bigger than themselves.  There is comradery and collaboration that is fun and exciting.

KBB instills a strong sense of self as evidenced by the evaluation results that reveal participating youth show improvements in self-esteem and increases in social interaction (precursors to obesity).

KBB is an obesity campaign that never uses the word "obesity", which stigmatizes the people we most want to engage -- beyond the morality of fat-shaming people by calling them obese.  Too many programs have children running around in tee shirts that say "STOP OBESITY", which diminishes a sense of self.  KBB is a different approach.  We don't need to use the word obesity. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • LGBTQ or non-binary individuals
  • Low-income communities
  • Other

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education
  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

Children's hospitals, state health agencies, county health departments, and health foundations.

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Students become “Kidz”, who educate their friends, families and neighbors on how Big Fat Industries target children with billions in advertising, marketing and free toys to get them to eat and drink their products in excess – when the only healthy way to consume their products is in moderation. Kidz also educate people on how Couch Potato Companies have literally engineered activity out of children’s lives by encouraging them to sit on the couch watching TV and playing video games – when the only healthy way is to balance sedate activities with more vigorous physical activity. Kidz use a 20-minute PowerPoint that is graphically-rich with hard-hitting content that leaves adults smarter than before the presentation began.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

KBB was evaluated by the University of South Florida, College of Public Health. Results are nationally significant, with majorities of parents reporting their families, as a result of their child participating in KBB, were consuming less fast food, soft drinks, junk food (72%); decreasing watching TV and playing video games (68%); eating more fruits and vegetables (56%); and being more physically active (51%). In 2017, KBB will be expanded nationally. Starting in 2016 KBB is being used as a model to develop a program similar in design and approach, but for middle- and high-school students. This program for older students is called “West Virginia is FED UP”, a statewide teen movement that takes its name from and is endorsed by the award-winning documentary “FED UP” narrated by Katie Couric with executive producer Laurie David (“An Inconvenient Truth”). It launches mid-Oct.

Organization Type

  • for-profit

Annual Budget

  • $100k - $250k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We are forming a non-profit to expand KBB nationally. In the short-term (2017-2019), the nonprofit will secure capacity building grants for start-up, as well as obtain other grants for organizational growth. Revenues from KBB sales to schools and afterschool programs will help with start-up, but by 2020 sales will grow to the point of financially sustaining the organization (with a $500,000 annual budget) without any grant assistance.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

The communication model used by the vast majority of obesity prevention efforts has adults preaching to children to eat better and exercise more, often wagging an index finger during the lecture. But adults have been telling children to eat better and exercise more for three decades. If this approach was effective, the U.S. would not have an obesity epidemic. Kidz Bite Back is a kid-created, kid-led, kid-spread movement -- modeling the highly successful national 'truth' campaign that prioritizes youth leading, youth advocating, youth delivering key messages.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Adults allowing youth to lead is the most promising shift we are seeing that can advance children's wellbeing. There are issues where youth are more effective leaders and messengers than adults. As more youth-led programs show results, more attention is given to the concept of youth leadership and youth empowerment. It's exciting to see youth discover their sense of self, belonging and wellbeing through youth leadership and youth empowerment -- regardless of the issue. Adults recognizing the vital role of youth in these movements further bolsters children's self esteem.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Program Design Clarity

a) The main beneficiary community is 4th and 5th graders and their families. b) The main activities include: 1. Spread the word. After training, Kidz use KBB 101 (20 minute PowerPoint) to educate their families, friends, neighbors and the community. 2. KBB Posters. Kidz develop posters with messages for Big Fat Industries and Couch Potato Companies. 3. KBB Videos. Kidz work together to develop a video. c) Kidz work on these and numerous other activities on a weekly basis at their schools, afterschool programs and at home. d) Teacher coordinators deliver services.

Community Leadership

Kidz make presentations to community stakeholders -- elected officials, community leaders, health professionals and policy decision-makers. The feedback focuses on how Kidz can be involved in policy, systems and environmental changes that promote health, wellness and wellbeing at schools and in communities. This feedback is gathered via online surveys, focus groups and community conversations. Equity is a KBB core value present in all KBB work

Age of Children Impacted

  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

The national sales strategy is conferences, trade shows and regional sales people. The sales pitch is that Kidz change family behaviors; Kidz change youth culture; and Kidz can be valuable assets in efforts to change policies, systems and environments. KBB's most important key connection is a national sponsor that will provide funding and national PR assistance, as well as utilize its offices as hubs to usher the program into communities.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

KBB is unique in its ability to provide the opportunity for children of "all shapes, sizes and colors" (as we say) to come together and legitimately lead a grassroots movement. Children thrive in these leadership and empowerment roles. They feel a sense of belonging as part of the KBB movement. They adopt the purpose of educating people using KBB 101. Kidz improve self esteem and social interaction, cultivating their sense of self.

Leadership Story

I was the chief strategist for a teen tobacco prevention campaign in West Virginia that reduced use by 32%, which saved more than 7,000 lives and more than $100 million in health care costs in only two years. The campaign helped pass policies regarding clean indoor air. This changed everything for me. I committed to measurable social change in all my work, which expanded into juvenile justice reform and obesity. My consulting work became focused on social change. For instance, Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital hired me to create social change on six heath issues in St. Petersburg, FL.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) named Kidz Bite Back a model obesity prevention program. NACCHO is a large, well-respected trade association comprised of senior health officials throughout the U.S.

Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

Kidz Bite Back

Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)

Dewey Caruthers dewey & associates


Join the conversation:

Photo of Nicole Forsyth

I love this:  "kid-created, kid-led, kid-spread"--I think this is the key to any effective social change involving children that is attempting to address the larger, more holistic goals of children's wellbeing.

Photo of Dewey Caruthers

Yes, we have lots of data and analysis to show this approach -- youth-led, peer-to-peer communication -- is more effective than the traditional adult-led public health education model.  University of South Florida, College of Public Health conducted a three-year scientific study.  There have also been other independent evaluations.  These evaluations show youth are more effective than adults in leading positive health behavior changes in families.  Moreover, I have the data and analysis that I utilized in my teen tobacco prevention work, which was the model for Kidz Bite Back.  If you would like to chat, call me at 813-294-5612.  Take care.

Photo of Doug Gould

Great idea to use education and peer mentoring to counterbalance the marketing message! I also like your focus on developing emotional intelligence and how it ties into Wellness. You mention using a design and method that you used in another program. Do you have any analysis that shows this approach is working? (impact?)