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Leaders Dominate the Oscars of the Obesity Movement


The team joined hundreds of Leaders this week at the Weight of the Nation conference in Washington, where government officials, leading health advocates, community organizers and others came together to collaborate on the actions needed to tackle the obesity epidemic. The big event was jam-packed with exciting news and fun gossip, which we break down below.

Leading the Way. We always knew Leaders were doing great work in the field to reverse childhood obesity – and now many of them have something to show for their efforts. Leaders nearly swept the Pioneering Innovation Awards at the Weight of the Nation conference, as six Leaders took home honors Tuesday evening at the Omni-Shoreham Hotel in Washington.

Leaders Steve Kelder, Antronette (Toni) Yancey, Deb Hubsmith, Tracy Orleans, James Sallis and Mary Story all accepted awards on behalf of their various organizations. While all the Leaders were deserving of their honors, we must admit we were especially excited to see Hubsmith accept the Game Changer Award on behalf of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, as she was the among the first Leaders we profiled when the Inside Track first launched.

Hubsmith told the Inside Track that she was thrilled to accept the award.

“It’s a really fitting title, because in the game it takes a team, and this is truly a team effort,” Hubsmith said of the award. “This has really brought together schools, mayors, parents, kids, engineers, planners, health educators. It’s really bringing everybody together. So it’s exciting to see everyone being lifted up through this award nationally.”

Kelder took home the Systems Change Award for his work leading CATCH, the obesity prevention program run at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at the University of Texas. Yancey received the Community Mobilization Award for creating the Instant Recess physical activity program. Tracy Orleans accepted the Applied Obesity Research Award on behalf of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), while James Sallis and Mary Story took home the same award on behalf of Active Living Research and Healthy Eating Research, respectively.

Along with receiving her award, Hubsmith stayed busy during her time in Washington. On Wednesday, she planned to mark National Bike to School day by taking part in a press conference to release new statistics showing 82 percent of Americans want to have more bicycle and pedestrian routes in communities nationwide.

Hubsmith also planned to ride a bike to school with local schoolchildren. “Somebody is bringing a helmet for me,” she noted.

Thanking Dietz. Although many Leaders took home awards during the conference, it was Bill Dietz from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who garnered the most recognition.

Dietz, who will soon retire as director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity of the Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, received praise throughout the three-day conference. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius honored Dietz during her remarks on Monday, as did White House policy adviser and chef Sam Kass.

“As everybody knows, he’s retiring in a couple of months. But thank you for all that you’ve done,” Kass said. “We are forever indebted to you, and the country really owes you the greatest thanks.”

Even First Lady Michelle Obama, who did not attend the conference but sent in a video message, took time to praise Dietz for “his years of service and tireless dedication.”

The CDC honored Dietz during Tuesday evening by presenting Dietz with an award of his own, and the outgoing CDC official received a standing ovation.

“This is over the top,” Dietz said. “A leader is only as effective as the staff that works with him and for him. That’s really true with me.”

Quasi-Celebrity Sighting. Among the conference goers who attended Tuesday night’s dinner was Subway spokesman Jared Fogle, who came with the crew from the University of Texas program CATCH. Fogle serves as a celebrity spokesman for the evidence-based primary prevention program and regularly appears at CATCH events.

Koh the Comic. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, was perhaps the funniest speaker of the conference, regularly poking fun at himself during his remarks during a plenary session on Monday. Koh made light of his advancing age, noting that he and many of his fellow speakers have worked together over several decades.

“From the day I met them until now, we haven’t changed a bit,” he joked, adding that the group had made it through the “three stages of life: youth, middle age and ‘you look great!’ I wish I had made that up.”

Koh also noted that much of his work involves working with private and public sector partners. Recently, for example, he helped with Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play, which saw 50,000 kids come to the White House to play alongside stars from the kiddie cable network.

“These kids were screaming, wow,” Koh deadpanned. “Everybody knew who these stars were. Except the adults, of course… my ears are still recovering.”

Koh added that he oversees the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, which is co-chaired by New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees and Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes and counts a number of athletes as members.

“Somebody has got to spend time with these folks. It might as well be us,” he joked.

C is for Couldn’t Make It. The conference opened on Monday with a talk between Dietz and Jeanette Betancourt from Sesame Street, who discussed how the long-running PBS children’s program is presenting healthy messages via characters such as Cookie Monster and Elmo.

Dietz noted that conference organizers had hoped to have one of the Sesame Street muppets appear at the event, but “in this politically-charged environment” where “image overrides content and reason” the unnamed muppet (rumored to be Cookie Monster) sadly could not appear.

Be sure to check out the blog for more news from the conference.