Our Journey Continues

Portrait of PHA's President and CEO Lawrence A. Soler. As many of you may already know, this is my final letter to you as CEO of the Partnership for a Healthier America.In August 2017, I’ll be starting a new venture as I launch a consulting firm focused on health, wellness and nutrition.While I may no longer be working directly for PHA, I’ll still be deeply committed to our shared goal of creating a world in which all children can grow up healthy.

When I look back upon my tenure at PHA, I do so with immense pride as well as a sense of awe – not over my own accomplishments, but over what we have been able to accomplish together. Quite honestly, we faced a daunting challenge from the outset: Childhood obesity rates had reached record highs with devastating results, putting America’s children at risk for chronic,life-shortening diseases that would rob them of the full and healthy lives they were born to live. When former First Lady Michelle Obama declared we must turn this around – and that we’d do so by securing assistance from the for-profit world – it seemed an impossible task.

Mrs. Obama recognized the opportunity to tack lean issue that couldn’t be solved without leadership from the highest levels. It was her passion and commitment that inspired us all to step up to the challenge and I’m proud to say that, while we have yet to finish the job,we’ve certainly made remarkable progress. The obesity rate for preschool-aged children has dropped. New data suggest improvements in obesity rates for kids among communities of color, which have been hardest hit by the nation’s obesity epidemic, that are greater than or equal to white communities. That’s something to celebrate.

To think that when we held our first Summit in 2011, we had no idea whether putting industry leaders and activists together in the same room could possibly work! Would they be tempted to point fingers and blame each other for the problems plaguing our nation’s youth? Or could we convince them to put their heads together to craft workable solutions for the sake of America’s children? Well, here we are in 2017, with a growing list of accomplishments we can all feel great about.

Collectively, these efforts are teaching America’s kids the value of good health and good eating habits. We’re training the next generation of health and wellness leaders, and that’s something to get excited about.

To date, we’ve secured more than 200 partners from the private sector to make the healthy choice the easy choice for American families.

One of the most substantial things we’ve done is to get the country’s leading childcare companies on board. Collectively, our early childhood and out-of-school-time partners have committed to providing more than 6 million children with healthier food and increased physical activity by 2020. Because of these commitments, kids in childcare settings are drinking less juice, eating fewer fried foods and discovering more fruits and vegetables.

When they get to school, children are more engaged in sports and other activities that get them up and moving through our Let’s Move! Active Schools initiative. When they go on to college, our partners keep them moving and eating healthier foods through our Healthier Campus Initiative, which now reaches more than 1.2 million students, faculty and staff with recreational programming, healthier meals and improved vending machine choices.

Another substantial transformation has been that of the convenience store industry, which once took its profits from cigarette and soda sales but now makes its money selling better-for-you snacks, salads and bottled water. We’ve seen a dramatic change in what’s being offered to shoppers and how these choices are featured in stores. Being part of the force that accelerated these changes is also something to celebrate.

But our work goes even further. In the past seven years, PHA has launched not one, but two, successful signature campaigns. DrinkUp encourages people to drink more water, more often. The campaign has boosted bottled water sales each year it’s been in existence, driving them 5 percent higher among shoppers in our target markets. And FNV, our Madison Avenue-styled marketing campaign for fruits and veggies, uses celebrities to sway kids to eat a wide variety of healthy, fresh produce.

Finally, one of our biggest strengths as an organization has been our ability to bring stakeholders together to broaden our collective impact. We do this through our annual Summits and other high-quality meetings that connect like-minded companies and organizations to encourage them to leverage their resources and ideas. One example of how this can lead to meaningful change was the partnership we helped forge between the Mushroom Council and Sodexo, which resulted in mushroom-beef blended burgers replacing full-beef burgers in 250 school districts nationwide – a healthier and tastier meal that was met with overwhelming approval from school kids.

In closing, it’s important to note that while we’ve certainly earned the right to celebrate our successes, we can’t lose sight of the need to stay focused if we want to reach our goal of reducing childhood obesity rates to 5 percent or less. We’re not there yet and there’s much work to be done.

As we all know, 2017 also represents a time of change and uncertainty about what the future may bring. But our work is not driven by changes in Washington, D.C. Our work is driven by consumers and the commitment of the private sector to work hand-in hand with the nonprofit and public sectors to ensure all children in America grow up healthy. Politics may change, but our commitment to that goal will not.

So let’s finish what we’ve started. Together

Larry Soler
President And Chief Executive Officer
Partnership for a Healthier America

Next: Measuring Success

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