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The Battle on Complacency: Leader Profile of Jim O’Hara


This week, caught up with Jim O’Hara, the Director of Health Promotion Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Jim just finished an incredibly busy week as one of the driving forces behind the Soda Summit in Washington, D.C. While we gave you our take on the event last week, we wanted to give Jim a chance to give us his. Here’s the interview.

1. What was the biggest success that came out of the Soda Summit last week?

The biggest success, especially for a meeting like this, is all the connections that got made between people across the country. There are so many people doing great work at the community level, state level and across the country. Hearing the energy, hearing people trade stories during the couple of days that we were together—that was for me the real success of the Summit.

2. What surprised you about the Soda Summit?

There were a number of things that made a real impression on me:

  • The Science and Research Panel – the depth and the totality of scientific evidence that we now have in place on which to base policies to reduce sugar-based consumption. That was, I think, significant.
  • The young man’s presentation, Gabriel Cortez, from The Bigger Picture, was an inspiring performance. I was impressed with the way that youth speak truth to the soda industry and about what they see sugar drinks doing to their communities.
  • Finally, I enjoyed [the NAACP’s] Shavon Arline-Bradley’s remarks about making certain we look hard at who is at the table as we engage in our policy work. 

Those were three moments that maybe didn’t surprise me, but were moments of significance.

3. What is the biggest battle ahead in the childhood obesity movement?

I think the biggest battle is against complacency—people thinking that we can’t change the environment. Whether it is the industry’s marketing or the lack of political will to make some of the hard policy choices, I think that people need to appreciate how much their efforts are already changing the environment. We are, as [CSPI Executive Director] Mike Jacobson said, on the right side of history and we are writing that history.

4. What is your motivation to keep fighting for this issue?

The personal motivation is the motivation that has been driving me ever since I got involved in public health in 1993 at the Food and Drug Administration, which is a clear sense that we can make a difference. We can make our communities better. We can make our lives healthier. We can make our families have a better future. I am one of those people who want to get up in the morning and try to make a difference.