CAMDEN, N.J. — The Campbell Soup Co. announced it will invest $10 million over the next 10 years as part of an extensive effort to reduce childhood obesity and hunger in its hometown of Camden. In making the investment, the company said it hopes to reduce childhood obesity and hunger in Camden’s 23,000 children by 50% over the next decade.

“Obesity is a national crisis, but it is even more acute in Camden,” said Douglas R. Conant, president and chief executive officer of Campbell. “We absolutely believe this important effort can nourish the lives of thousands of Camden children, both physically and emotionally, and help prepare them for a productive future.”

According to Campbell, nearly all Camden’s school-age children are enrolled in free school breakfast and lunch programs, but obesity rates for children ages 3 to 19 in Camden are nearly 40%, above the national average of 32%. Meanwhile, 35% of Camden children, ages 3 to 5, are overweight or obese, compared with the national average of 21%, and 44% of Hispanic children in Camden are overweight or obese, compared with the national average of 38%, Campbell said.

As part of its effort to address the rising obesity and hunger issues, Campbell said it will focus on three areas:

* Providing increased access to affordable, healthy food. Campbell is expected to support the development of a major supermarket in Camden, which is served by a single supermarket on the outskirts of the city. Plans also call for an expansion in the availability of fresh produce, as well as the creation of a Healthy Corner Store Network, based on the Food Trust’s successful model in Philadelphia.
* Expanding availability of and participation in physical activity and physical education. Campbell said it will fund in- and after-school activities through the Y’s CATCH program (Coordinated Approach to Child Health), a coordinated school-health program designed to promote physical activity and healthy food choices in children from preschool through eighth grade. Campbell said its goal is to increase the frequency, intensity and duration of physical activity throughout the day.
* Increasing nutrition and health education. In collaboration with Share Our Strength’s national nutrition education program, Cooking Matters, Campbell will help teach families how to make healthy and budget-wise food choices. Administered locally by the Food Bank of South Jersey, Cooking Matters will bring seven cooking-centered courses to Camden residents. Each free six-week course will feature hands-on meal preparation, basic nutrition, food safety, menu planning, food budgeting and more.

“Thanks to Campbell’s $10 million investment to our children’s health and well being, we have a strong partner in the fight against childhood obesity and hunger,” said Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd.

Campbell said it will collaborate with many organizations, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Food Trust, the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Camden, the Camden Children’s Garden and the Y, along with the United Way, Cooper University Hospital, Rutgers University, the Food Bank of South Jersey and others.

Initially, Campbell plans to focus on the neighborhoods of Parkside, adjacent to its headquarters, and North Camden, launching the program in three elementary schools: Forest Hill Elementary, Cooper’s Poynt Elementary and Holy Name School. A church and two day care facilities also will participate, the company said.

“We plan to concentrate our efforts on these sites in Camden and gradually expand to other locations until we have a citywide program in place,” said Denise Morrison, chief operating officer at Campbell. “We’re excited about launching this important program, and, over time, we plan to extend it to other U.S. communities where we have operations.”

Kim Fremont Fortunato, who joined Campbell in November 2010 as director of childhood obesity and hunger, will manage the program.