Focusing the PHA Lens

Portrait of James R. Gavin III, Chair of PHA's Board of Directors. As we move into our seventh year of groundbreaking work – and the first in a new Administration – many have asked how the changing political climate may affect our efforts. My answer is simple: I believe our work is needed now more than ever.

It was by design that PHA was organized as a non-partisan, independent, not-for-profit entity. We do not rely upon government funding, or implementation of governmental policy mandates to achieve our goals. Our mission is to reduce childhood obesity rates to five percent or less within a generation, and we do so by working collaboratively with the private sector to transform the marketplace. Together with our partners, we’re increasing the supply and demand for affordable, healthy food and broadening opportunities for children to remain physically active throughout the day.

Many things may change in the next few years, but our overall goal is not one of them. The freedom to support more choice for more people, and to work with organizations that embrace growing consumer demand for healthier options, provides PHA and our partners with the flexibility to go where we can make the biggest impact.

At PHA, our work depends upon voluntary commitments, and we know from experience that they work. Americans want healthier choices and when partners make healthier options more abundant and easier to find, consumers load them into their carts and show their support at the register. Through our signature initiatives like our FNV campaign, celebrities and sports icons who tout their favorite fruits and veggies are turning once-reluctant young consumers into fresh produce enthusiasts. And we’re so proud that Drink Up, the campaign that’s getting more people to drink more water, helped water become the number one beverage this year.

We’re already seeing evidence of change. Recently released data show obesity rates for kids ages 2-19 have plateaued or dropped, a sign that we are halting this dangerous trend and perhaps even seeing early signs of reversal. It is especially noteworthy that the obesity rate among the nation’s youngest consumers – those aged 2-4 years – has been dropping, especially among communities of color. We’ll push for continued progress in this area with help from our partners in early childcare and out-of-school time, who have revamped the types of snacks and meals they feed children in their care and upped the portion of the day devoted to being active.

The data also show that not everyone has the same opportunity to be healthy. Low-income communities, people living in rural areas and communities of color have borne the brunt of our nation’s obesity epidemic. This is partly because the neighborhoods they live in often lack full-service stores where families can purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products at affordable prices. Additionally, these communities often lack safe places for kids to burn calories with safe places to play outdoors.

That’s why PHA places a special emphasis on reaching the children who live in neighborhoods that are not only disproportionately affected by obesity, but least likely to have the means to combat it. Our staff is trained to structure and direct partner commitments to ensure they reach those geographic places and socioeconomic groups that are the most challenged.

To assure these families have access to affordable, healthy groceries, our partners have opened or expanded more than 800 stores in food-scarce neighborhoods, allowing 3.3 million people to put healthier meals on the table. Convenience stores are making it easier for families to eat better, offering free fruit to kids, low-priced healthy meal deals and fresh salad bars, among other health focused improvements. PHA can now boast more than 1,000 locations among its six convenience chain partners, including a new relationship with the National Association of Convenience Stores that has embraced healthier options to meet increased consumer demands. With these same stores conducting more than 500,000 SNAP transactions each month, it’s clear even families with limited means now have access to healthier options for their children.

We’re also reaching children in disproportionately impacted areas through our partners who build low-income housing designed with health in mind. Our active design partners are putting up more than 4,000 housing units with features such as exercise equipment for children and adults, pedestrian walkways, community gardens and outdoor play spaces that encourage residents to be more physically active.

At PHA, we’re committed to making the healthy choice the easy choice. But families can’t make those choices if they’re shut out from them because of where they live or how much they earn. With help from our growing list of partners, we’re making sure that they aren’t.

James R. Gavin III MD, PHD
Chairman of the Board
Partnership for a Healthier America

Next: The PHA Framework

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