Last night, during the Partnership for a Healthier America’s (PHA) annual Building a Healthier Future Summit in Washington, D.C., we hosted a benefit to celebrate PHA’s five-year anniversary. It was an opportunity to come together with our partners and supporters to celebrate meaningful commitments to solving the childhood obesity crisis. Together, we have made great strides toward our common goal.
Five years ago, PHA was created to help tackle the urgent health crisis of childhood obesity by transforming the marketplace to offer healthy choices that are more accessible and affordable. In that time, we have spurred meaningful action from our growing list of partners and collaborators and have begun to see a corresponding shift in consumer expectations. To date, PHA has secured commitments from more than 100 partners, who are collectively creating a marketplace that offers an ever-widening array of healthy choices to American families in the places they work, eat, live and play.
Together, our partners touch more than 45 million Americans, including 5.3 million children in nearly 2,000 cities and every state in the nation, plus Puerto Rico. Commitments from PHA partners have resulted in nearly 70,000 children in daycare eating healthier meals, more than 370 new grocery stores opening in neighborhoods with low access to healthy, affordable food and more than 3 million kids taking part in increased physical activity.
From the outset, we knew that to achieve our mission, we needed to maximize the potential of the private sector. We wanted the private sector with us because, quite simply, we knew we wouldn’t succeed without it. With that goal in mind, we set out to garner meaningful commitments from companies on the front lines of carrying out our mission — companies that aligned with our goals, and had the breadth and depth to positively impact the quality of life of both children and their parents and caregivers on a daily basis.
For example, at last year’s Building a Healthier Future Summit, Sodexo made a five-year pledge to engage and motivate consumers toward healthy choices by widely deploying Mindful, its 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 vending and K-12 lunchroom programs. Sodexo is also the food service provider to more than 850 colleges and universities, five of which just signed on as partners in our Healthy Campus Initiative.
PHA’s founding partners also deserve a great measure of credit for our success. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been at the forefront of this movement. Earlier this month, the Foundation made a pledge to extend its support of PHA with an additional $500 million over the next 10 years to help all children grow up at a healthy weight. This support will be crucial in our effort to build upon the early signs we are seeing of real progress in overcoming the obesity crisis.
According to recent statistics, obesity rates have fallen by 43 percent among children ages two to five years old. This shows us that progress is being made and we should all be proud of what we have accomplished. But there is more work to be done. The overall landscape of this issue — one in eight preschool children is diagnosed as obese, including one in five African-American preschoolers and one in six Hispanic children — continues to show us we have so much more work left to do.
We are five years strong and it’s time to celebrate and take pride in our achievements. As the Building a Healthier Future Summit comes to a close, I know that I will come away buoyed by the network of partnerships with PHA, and the meaningful commitments that are being carried out and will keep us going strong for the next five years and beyond. I know that together we will continue the important work of moving the nation toward our goal of making the healthy choice the easy choice for American families — one commitment at a time.
Larry Soler is president and CEO of the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA). Prior to joining PHA, Soler was chief operating officer for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.