The Partnership for a Healthier America kicked off its Building a Healthier Future Summit on Thursday morning by sharing the results of its progress report on commitments made by private sector partners to reduce childhood obesity.
All the partners have made progress in their efforts, PHA announced. As a result, 8,100 new physical activity opportunities for kids took place in 2012, 141 new or renovated grocery stores have opened in food deserts and 1,713 cities held physical activity promotion events last year.
“We know the private sector alone cannot solve this crisis – it will take work from everyone, including communities, schools, non-profits, governments, families and more,” said Lawrence Soler, PHA’s CEO. “PHA commends our partners for the remarkable goals they have set to help make it easier for kids and families to make the healthy choice.”
While most of the commitments made by the private sector partners will take years to implement, a handful already have made good on their promises. In particular, Pinnacle Foods Inc., the manufacturer of Birds Eye frozen vegetables, reported that their $2 million effort to market healthy products to kids generated a two-month sales increase.
Meanwhile, retailers such as Wal-Mart and Walgreens continue to work to open hundreds of stores selling healthy produce and other goods in underserved neighborhoods. Wal-Mart completed 53 of the 275 stores it pledged to build or renovate by July 2016, for example.
Reaction to the report was positive, although many observers cautioned that more work is needed – and more people to step up and help - to ensure progress continues.
“All across our nation – from California to New York City – we’re seeing pockets of progress toward reversing the childhood obesity epidemic,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a founding partner of PHA. “But we aren’t nearly where we need to be. For progress to reach every corner of our country, we must redouble our efforts: parents, schools, nonprofit organizations, government at all levels, and the private sector.”
While the PHA has taken a carrot approach with industry rather than a stick, others noted that advocates will need to work hard to ensure that the work being done makes a real impact.
“We’ll see if the changes that are coming about make a meaningful dent in the obesity problem,” PreventObesity.net Leader Kelly Brownell, the director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, told Bloomberg News. “If the changes don’t come about or aren’t meaningful, government is going to have to interact with the industry in a different way.”
Along with the report, PHA also announced progress in improving the nutritional quality of hospital food, and a commitment from new partner Morrison HealthCare to offer healthier food at its facilities as part of its wellness program. The organization also announced that Varsity Brands, which provides cheerleading and dance uniforms, will allocate more than $500,000 to increase physical activity and nutrition programming in its network.
GE Healthcare, Cerner and the Physician’s Computer Company also announced that they will join PHA to develop the Healthy Weight Plan, which will provide doctors with tools to help patients and their families build healthy habits. This plan will impact “millions of doctor visits per year,” according to PHA.
Hundreds of people representing a wide array of public and private organizations are gathered in Washington, D.C. for the summit. PHA is slated to host its “Great American School Lunch Challenge” on Thursday afternoon, and First lady Michelle Obama is expected to close the conference on Friday.
In the morning, PHA honorary co-chairman and former Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) led a panel discussion on the state of the childhood obesity movement.
Don’t forget: We’ll be live-tweeting the summit via @Prevent_Obesity, so be sure to follow us for the latest news. If you’re in D.C. for the summit, please stop by Elephant and Castle on Friday afternoon for the PreventObesity.net Leader post-summit happy hour! We’ll buy the first 30 Leaders who stop by a drink, and we’ll also share some healthy snacks. Click here to RSVP.