The Next Chapter: Innovation, Efficiency And Persistence
Eight years ago, Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) launched with the ambitious goal of reducing childhood obesity to five percent or less within a generation. With one in three children in America overweight or obese, we knew we had a lot of work ahead of us.
We still do. Childhood obesity is not an issue that can be solved overnight. Our progress, while no doubt substantial, must be viewed through a long lens. This battle is one that must be fought tirelessly, steadily, and relentlessly on many fronts. We remain a long way from reaching our goal.
If we stop to consider our accomplishments – which are many – it must be done with these questions in mind: How can we build upon what we have achieved? How can we leverage the work that is already underway?
What new strategies can we employ to propel us even further in creating an environment in which all children in America can grow up at a healthy weight?
Because our work is collaborative, we are able to raise these questions each year with an ever-growing network of partners, each of which brings to the table fresh eyes and ideas. This means that each year, we generate new strategies and solutions, all of which bring us closer to achieving our vision of a world in which the healthy choice is the easy choice for American families.
Our initial strategy involved securing commitments from individual companies and organizations to provide healthier products and greater opportunities for children to become and remain physically active throughout the day. That strategy proved highly effective, garnering commitments from more than 200 partners covering a wide range of stakeholders.
Most importantly, it created momentum. Today, we’re building upon that momentum by taking our efforts up a notch: Last year, we added our first industry- wide commitment with the addition of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) – an organization with the ability to influence more than 154,000 convenience and corner stores nationwide.
Working with a retail association allows us to broaden our reach and leverage our efforts with individual convenience store chains by supplying them with additional tools, resources, and support in their collective efforts to provide busy consumers with healthier choices.
In addition to showcasing healthier foods at its annual trade show, NACS will provide its retail and distribution members with tools such as the Healthier Product Calculator and Drink Up Portal, which will assist them in stocking and promoting better-for-you meals and snacks to the 160 million customers who shop at convenience stores on a daily basis.
Such tools are examples of how innovation can help us work more efficiently and effectively to provide most families with the healthiest possible options.
Another example of innovative problem solving arose from the realization that while we were reaching millions of children nationwide, some needed our help more than others.
Childhood obesity rates are often greatest in communities where access to healthy, affordable choices and safe places to play are most scarce. Such is often the case in low-income communities, rural areas, and communities of color. So last year, we began using a tool that would ensure we were reaching the children in neighborhoods facing the greatest barriers to good health.
PHA’s ExoOpp mapping tool allows us to prioritize areas of greatest need by analyzing data related to poverty, obesity, and vulnerable populations specific to a geographic area. Together with our partners, we’re now able to use this tool to ensure we’re targeting resources and appropriate strategies to areas where our efforts can make the biggest impact.
These are just some of the solutions we’ve been able to craft by working collaboratively with a wide range of public and private stakeholders passionate about the need and responsibility to create a healthier world for our children and their families. From food manufacturers to luxury automobile makers, recreation and daycare centers, hospitals and universities to public housing developers, PHA partners share the drive and commitment to keep fighting until every child in America has access to healthier choices and opportunities.
It is worth noting that none of these solutions relies upon changes in government regulation or policy. Quite frankly, the federal government cannot easily or reliably offer the stability and consistency needed to effect the type of change we need to solve a public health problem of this magnitude. In fact, unfettered by partisan politics, the private sector may be able to use its enormous creativity and flexibility as powerful tools for crafting the broad-based and sustainable solutions needed to solve this major public health problem.
PHA has always operated on the premise that everyone has a role to play in this fight. Now, more than ever, we must leverage our collective resources to do what’s right for our nation’s children. We can do this – together.
James R. Gavin III, MD, PHD
Chairman of the Board Partnership for a Healthier America