Project description

State of Obesity is a data journalism project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The site is the definitive source of data and analysis on the obesity epidemic in the United States, including adult and childhood obesity rates, and information on obesity-related health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. The site’s purpose is to educate policymakers and the public about the state of obesity in the U.S. and analyze policies meant to reduce rates and improve population health. The project is a non-profit effort and the site is a free resource.

What makes this project innovative?

State of Obesity represents a strong move by a non-media organization — a philanthropic foundation in this case — into the data journalism field. It is a clear example that there is an audience for data projects outside of traditional newsrooms. The site replaced a conventional PDF-based publishing practice with an entirely new, digital-first, data-driven, interactive web product. Although the site publishes some static text articles, the emphasis and main audience draw are a series of data interactives on a range of obesity-related topics.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

State of Obesity’s impact is three-fold: 1) Reach: the site began with traffic in the thousands of visits when first launched, and now serves over 1 million sessions per year; 2) Policy Impact: the site is regularly cited in policy discussion about obesity and public health, including media coverage and among policymakers; an example in the state of Arkansas that instituted new public health measures as a direct result of the information contained on State of Obesity; and 3) Publish Practices: the site has changed the way foundations and research non-profits approach publishing, moving them away from PDFs and to a more effect digital-native model.

Source and methodology

State of Obesity uses several principle sources of data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop its interactives: the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) dataset to measure adult obesity and related health conditions; the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) for children ages 10 to 17; National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for national-level obesity rates and supporting information; Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) for obesity among American high school students; and surveys of participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program for rates among young children ages 2 to 4. State of Obesity also utilizes primary research from partner organizations for state-level policy analysis.

Technologies Used

State of Obesity is custom-built with HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript, with a MySQL backend. AngularJS and D3 are used for custom interactives. The site is in the process of being updated to use a React frontend and MongoDB backend.

Project members

Jeff StangerGabe LuethjeScott NelléMatt ViggianoIvana WongJohn RagozzineKevin FodnessPattie ReavesDan BowlesMatt GruenbergLaurie LennonElizabeth Wenk


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