CEO, Sodexo Schools Worldwide President,
Sodexo North America
The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) fulfills a critical mission: ending the childhood obesity crisis. After increasing steadily for decades, the national childhood obesity rate has leveled off, but it is still alarmingly high compared to a generation ago. The CDC reports that childhood obesity has more than doubled in children (defined as those under 10 years of age) and quadrupled in adolescents (10 to 19 years of age) in the past 30 years. Among young children 2 to 5, rates more than doubled between the mid-1970s and 2000s before beginning a decline. If we don’t address this epidemic now, we are sending millions of children down a perilous path towards a lifetime of chronic diseases. PHA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to work with the private sector to help end this crisis.
Sodexo’s mission is to improve the Quality of Life for the 75 million people we serve globally–and that includes children. With this in mind, Sodexo made six commitments to PHA to help improve the health and wellbeing of children, as well as adults. For children, by leveraging our scale and scope, we can make significant gains in helping to address childhood obesity.
For example, Sodexo provides services for children in nearly 500 school districts across North America. To note one example of how we help improve childhood nutrition, we recently began using a student-approved mushroom-beef burger blend in our school menus. This action alone removed 250 million calories and 304 million milligrams of sodium from student meals each year!
Beyond this, we know that we must create a culture that prioritizes healthy lifestyles for everyone, especially children. One that inspires young people to choose vegetables over fries, grilled over fried foods, and healthy over unhealthy snacks.
Sodexo partnered with the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program on the Smarter Lunchroom movement to help instill healthy eating behaviors in children. This movement encourages students to make healthy choices by making it easier to find fresh produce in the lunch line and serving healthy foods in more appealing ways. A Sodexo pilot program conducted with Cornell showed that this led to an increase in fruit, vegetable and milk consumption.
Based on this success, we’ve committed to rolling out the Smarter Lunchroom program to 90 percent of the K-12 schools we serve. We’ve also committed to providing 17 million free student breakfasts by 2018 to children in need.
As a result of these efforts, Sodexo was recognized as PHA’s inaugural Partner of the Year. This recognition is an important validation of our work to help improve children’s health.
However, we can’t stop here. We applaud the efforts of other PHA partners whose scale and scope enable them to make significant commitments that fight childhood obesity. This includes companies such as Dannon that committed to improving nutrient density and reducing sugar and fat in its yogurt products and the YMCA that committed to establishing minimums for physical activity, maximums for screen time, and keeping food and beverages healthy for the 700,000 children in its out of school programs.
Being a part of PHA enables Sodexo and others to fight childhood obesity together. We must continue this effort to solve this national epidemic.
Share your insights and ideas to address childhood obesity in the comments section below.