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Gimme Five: Sean Kelly


Sean Kelly is the co-founder and CEO of Helping Unite Mankind and Nutrition (HUMAN), which works with schools to provide healthier vending machines and snack options to students. HUMAN is also working with schools to help them meet the Smart Snacks in Schools nutritional guidelines by the July 1 launch date.

What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?

When I was in college, I was set on becoming a surgeon. Once, when I took a tour of a hospital, it dawned on me that I might be better-suited — and more passionate about — prevention rather than treating a problem after-the-fact. This idea was cemented when I was working at a gym in New York City and saw a woman purchase a soda from a vending machine before her treadmill work-out. I realized that despite all of us knowing that junk foods should be a “sometimes” food, we choose to eat them simply because they’re there, even in places where it’s completely counterproductive for them to be. I knew that if an upscale gym in NYC didn’t have convenient healthful options, then schools and other locations were also likely to be behind. I didn’t want to wait until I was a surgeon to address this problem, so I turned to the power of business to help solve the social problem that is lack of access to healthful foods and beverages across the nation.

How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?

As the co-founder of HUMAN, my mission is to make “easy nutrition everywhere,” which means ensuring people have access to healthful foods and beverages wherever they are. HUMAN’s healthy vending machines and micro-markets make healthful foods the convenient choice in schools, gyms, hospitals, corporations and more. We work with schools to provide healthful options that their students will love — we host sampling events and education events to get feedback and get everyone on board — and we are currently helping schools comply with the USDA’s new Smart Snacks in School nutritional guidelines.

We also work with schools in underserved areas by donating one or two healthy vending machines, and then teaching a select group of students how to run the vending business as a social enterprise. This is a part of our nonprofit charity arm, HUMAN Everywhere. 

What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?

HUMAN’s biggest accomplishment thus far when it comes to childhood obesity is ensuring ALL students have access to healthful snacks and beverages rather than junk food. HUMAN has worked with thousands of schools across the nation to improve their competitive food and beverage options. While we’ve always known that children who eat healthfully at school are better equipped to succeed academically, we now have more evidencethat those benefits extend beyond the classroom as well. A new study shows that students who eat healthful competitive food options are more likely to make healthful food choices at home [see here].

With the USDA’s new “Smart Snacks in School” rules, we’re working with hundreds of schools to ensure they comply with the new standards by July 1, 2014, when they are scheduled to go into effect. We’re also working to ensure each school maintains—if not exceeds—its former vending commissions.

Who is your role model in your work?

I have many role models in business, but the two most on my mind right now are:

  • Michael Hyatt, the former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers: He inspires intentional leadership in others, is very self-disciplined (he's created a phenomenal system for himself to experience success and fulfillment in his professional life), and leads with "why."
  • Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group: He believes he can be the change he wants to see in the world no matter how crazy it may seem... and that is powerful.

Did you play any sports growing up?

When I was a teenager, I loved to skateboard! Unfortunately, my town was not as enthusiastic about the sport as I was. I can’t tell you how many times my friends and I were chased by the cops. So, a few friends and I set out to transform our town so that everyone could benefit from a safe place to skateboard. Working with our city council, we raised half a million dollars to build an incredible skate park.  It still exists and is a testament to the power of cause-driven youth.

Click here to connect with Sean Kelly.

Our own Zach Brooks speaks with a Leader each week to get a quick look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part? Visit Zach’s profile and contact him.