Business Has the Power, and... The Responsibility

Post by Nancy E. Roman, President and CEO, PHA (@nancyroman1)

Image of business executive giving a presentation.

America’s children are in worst shape than ever – weighing more today than they have in 40 years. According to a new study published in the Lancet, rates for children with obesity are up tenfold since researchers started studying the problem. The new report shows that there are now 124 million children who have obesity around the globe, which is up from 11 million in 1975.

There are three primary drivers of this phenomenon:

  1. A broken food supply loaded with added salt and sugar; too-big portions, and processing that destroys nutrients,
  2. Inactivity. Children and adults walk, run, play, lift, bend and, otherwise, move less than before and less than is needed to be healthy, and,
  3. Corporations are overlooked as problem solvers.

Everybody knows about the first two drivers: Crummy food and too little physical activity, and there are legions of organizations – including mine – working on those things. But, few appreciate the extent to which corporations have both the power – and responsibility – to affect change both in the food supply and in fostering physical activity.

Why single out corporations? America is arguably the largest, most powerful capitalist country in the world. Our nation’s companies and its employees are an underutilized resource. Well over 124 million workers are employed by private enterprise, 38 percent of the total U.S. population.

Yet, when people want improved health outcomes – they look to government and NGOs. Surely, those organizations have a role to play, but companies have more flexibility, more resources and more direct access to the public. In short, they have the power.

Accordingly, I call on corporate America to step up. Partnership for a Healthier America is working directly with food companies to improve the food supply.

To that end, Dannon has removed 25 percent of the sugar from its yogurt. PepsiCo is working to get two thirds of its revenue from products with fewer than 100 calories.

Let’s face it: Daycares, schools, workplaces, restaurants and our own refrigerators are down stream from the “Big Food” supply chain. If we want to improve our health, we need to move upstream and take on the sugar, fat and salt at the source.

PHA also works directly with companies to foster physical activity.
Companies like NIKE, Reebok, Mercedes- Benz USA and DICK’s Sporting Goods have invested more than $124 million in physical activity to support America’s children. We’re just scratching the surface. In addition to investments in our kids, what if all companies agree to provide opportunities for physical activity in the workplace? Walking meetings? What else?

We can’t NGO or government program our way out of this mess.

At PHA, more than 225 organizations have made commitments to better food and more movement. We need companies all across America to step up. If you want to be one of them, call me.