Partnering with Business to Create a Healthier Future

Mar 27, 2014, 6:10 PM, Posted by John Lumpkin

Joh Lumpkin at Partnership for a Healthier America

“I want you to join together with the band.”
—Join Together, The Who

I’ve been thinking about this lyric after attending an important health conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, focused on strategies and collaborations that can reverse the childhood obesity epidemic in the U.S. The attendees weren’t just your usual health conference suspects—researchers, medical professionals, public health officers, etc. The Building a Healthier Future summit, convened by the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), also offered leaders from the nonprofit, academic, and public sectors the all-too-rare opportunity to swap ideas and strategies with corporate executives.

Now that’s a band.

If you’re thinking that a healthier future and the likes of Pepsico and Del Monte Foods have nothing in common, it is time to revise your thinking. PHA was formed in 2010, at the same time as Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, to work with the private sector to develop strategies for addressing childhood obesity (RWJF was one of the founding partners).

There are people fighting for a healthier America who look skeptically at the very idea of industry engagement, who believe business can only be cast as the villain. But many businesses understand that the health of their employees, their customers, and their communities is important to their own success.

At RWJF we realize that our own vision—to build a culture of health that offers everyone a wealth of opportunities to make healthy choices, no matter where we live, or how much we earn—cannot be realized without the cooperation of the business community. That's why we agreed to fund an independent evaluation of a pledge made four years ago by the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) to PHA. HWCF, representing 16 of the nation's leading food and beverage companies, pledged to remove 1 trillion calories from the marketplace by 2012, and 1.5 trillion by 2015. In January, the researchers we funded announced that the 16 firms reduced calories by 6.4 trillion by 2012, beating their goal by 400 percent, and three years ahead of schedule.

Certainly at RWJF we are not shy about pressing industry to do even more, and we will continue to shine a light on business practices that we believe do not contribute to a culture of health. But we also aren’t going to shrug off any company that sincerely wants to join us in fostering a healthier environment, and we feel obligated to stand up and say it when things go right.

There were plenty of stories worth trumpeting at the Healthier Future summit, and outlined in PHA’s most recent progress report:

•    Pepsico removed 370,000 tons of sugar from its beverages between 2006 and 2012.

•    Sodexo, which operates cafeterias and other food services across the U.S., committed to implementing healthy dining programs in 95 percent of its accounts, and increase the number of healthier options in its school lunch programs.

•    Del Monte Foods pledged to improve the nutrient density of its products, and has increased donations of fruit and vegetable products to anti-hunger efforts.

•    PHA partners have more than doubled the number of stores in areas that previously lacked access to healthy, affordable food, from 141 to 372.

All in all, more than 45 million individuals, including more than 5 million kids, have been touched by PHA partner commitments.  

RWJF is in this battle against childhood obesity for the long haul. It’s nice to know we have a lot of fellow band mates, from all sectors of society, joining in.