Today, I had the privilege of participating in the 2015 Building a Healthier Future Summit hosted by the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA). The summit offers a unique opportunity for public, private and non-profit leaders to come together to address one of the single biggest issues facing our children, our families, our communities and the future of our country – childhood obesity.
According to the Obesity Action Coalition, childhood obesity affects 30 percent of children in the United States, making it the most common chronic disease of childhood. This number has more than tripled since 1980. More and more children are being diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension and other conditions associated with obesity. As a nation, we spend 86 percent of our healthcare dollars on the treatment of chronic diseases – like obesity — that are preventable and compromise our quality of life.
We need to change those statistics and PHA, together with its partner companies, is attempting to do just that.
Although the causes are widespread, the current high rates of overweight and obesity are primarily a result of individual behaviors and environmental factors that lead to excess caloric intake and inadequate amounts of physical activity. The only way to curb the childhood (and adult) obesity epidemic is by addressing these root causes.
If we want a healthier nation, we have to start with our children and the best way to do that is providing them with the tools, resources and education to make informed decisions and by role-modeling the behaviors we want them to adopt. This means parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, neighbors, teachers and all other caregivers must demonstrate and educate on how to make the right choices to maintain a healthy lifestyle and mindset. There are really only two actions to take — eat the right food and exercise on a regular basis. Sounds simple, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it sounds. PHA’s mission is making healthier choices more affordable and accessible to families and children across the country. But to really bring PHA’s vision to fruition, it will require the commitment of each and everyone one of us. From ensuring nutritious, fresh snack options to giving kids access to safe places to play to providing more opportunities to get active, these small changes can result in making the healthy choice, the easy and fun choice for kids and families.
Last year at this same conference, Sodexo announced its partnership with PHA and commitment to engage and motivate consumers toward healthy choices by widely deploying Mindful, our healthy dining program; expanding healthier food choices in hospitals; offering more free breakfast meals in schools; and increasing the selection of healthier, more nutritious options in our vending and K-12 lunchroom programs. In just one year, I’ve seen a major progress. All 9,000 Sodexo client sites in North America now offer educational programming about healthy lifestyle habits and we are on track to offer a healthy dining program in 95% of our accounts by 2017.
As I learn about all the progress being made by PHA towards ending childhood obesity, I can’t help but feel proud to be working towards a lasting solution. As we drive toward establishing a national culture of health and wellness, the leadership of PHA and the commitment of the private sector will continue to propel us forward. Innovative wellness programs and the scope and scale to implement them will help us achieve our common goal to build a healthier nation. PHA and its partner organizations have undertaken a monumental task – changing the mindset of the entire nation, one decision and one decision-maker at a time.
Nebeyou Abebe is Senior Director, Health & Well-Being, Sodexo North America