The following is a guest post from the PreventObesity.net team, who last week’s Partnership for a Healthier America’s (PHA) inaugural “Building a Healthier Future” summit, held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel here in Washington. The two-day event was jam-packed with newsworthy announcements and fun gossip, which we break down below.
In a keynote address wrapping up the conference, First Lady Michelle Obama announced that the next initiatives for her “Let’s Move!” campaign will focus on encouraging physical activity among young people, who she said suffer from a “crisis of inactivity.”
Young people today are the most sedentary in our nation’s history, Obama said. This generation spends an average of 7.5 hours each day in front of a screen such as a television or computer, and only a quarter of them play outside each day, compared to three quarters of kids a generation ago.
“It wasn’t always like this,” Obama said, reflecting on her own childhood. “We would walk to school every day. And then when we got to school, we’d run around and play before the bell rang. You got to school early to run around.”
But these days, “the only walking our kids do is out the front door to a car,” Obama said.
Obama didn’t reveal any specific details for the upcoming initiative, but she did note that she plans to work with mayors, schools, sports leagues, celebrities and business to find new ways to encourage activity among young people.
And Obama encouraged the advocates in the audience to do their part to get kids moving. The First Lady even screened a video featuring clips of her being active, from doing jumping jacks and dancing the Dougie to jumping rope and playing football.
“I’m pretty much willing to make a complete fool of myself to get our kids moving,” she said. “But there’s a method to my madness.”
There’s not much working-across-the-aisle happening in Washington these days, but a Republican and a Democrat came together during the conference to raise awareness about the importance of addressing the obesity epidemic.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Cory Booker, Democratic Mayor of Newark, N.J., came together to praise food industry titans such as Wal-Mart and Walgreens for doing their part to reverse obesity by opening locations in underserved areas and selling more fresh and affordable products.
The duo made several joint television appearances, co-authored an opinion piece for Politico and kicked off the conference with keynote addresses on Tuesday morning. Both argued that America’s response to the childhood obesity epidemic will shape its future, for good or bad.
Booker compared childhood obesity to past challenges such as the abolition of slavery or defeating Nazi Germany, telling the audience that “the greatest threat to our democracy in America, is the health and education of our children.”
“We drink deeply from wells of freedom and liberty and justice that we did not dig,” Booker said.
“Our children challenge us every day when they stand up in our schools and say those five words: With Liberty and Justice for All,” he later added. “We who sit here now, we are those Americans who must stand up now, and not let our inability to do everything undermine our ability to do something.”
Booker challenged the conference attendees—including private businesses—to work together to make change. When a reporter asked Booker whether the industry’s promises will actually do anything – and suggested addressing government subsidies for certain foods might create more effective change — the mayor responded that the pledges are something that will help people now, rather than just continue to divide people.
“Today, back in my city, I’ve got a working mom who doesn’t have access to a supermarket,” Booker said, adding that grocers opening locations in underserved areas will help that woman. “I see these guys come up with real solutions… I’m telling you right now, we’re doing something, and we’re getting something done.”
Frist — who also is a heart surgeon — noted that PHA and others will hold the industry accountable. “American consumers are not stupid,” and know the difference between real change and public relations stunts, Frist added.
“Making the healthy choice the easy choice can make the bottom line healthy, too,” Frist said. “I’m not about to argue that the private sector’s motivation are purely altruistic. But frankly, it doesn’t matter.”
The PHA summit was strictly an A-list affair, what with headliners such as First Lady Michelle Obama, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, “Top Chef” head judge Tom Colicchio and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
But it was the appearance of a tabloid-favorite star that had heads turning.
NBA player Kris Humphries, best known for being the soon-to-be ex-husband of reality starlet Kim Kardashian, attended the summit on behalf of his namesake foundation. Humphries came to D.C. to be a part of the childhood obesity movement – his group aims to get kids physically active – but his appearance nonetheless drove gossip among many attendees, especially the 20-something set.
Humphries, who was accompanied by his mother, kindly chatted up conference goers and posed for photos. But he appeared to take the summit seriously, as he quietly sat alongside the 800-or-so other attendees during the speeches and sat in on breakout sessions (and for what it’s worth, he was not trailed by any cameras)
If one little boy had his way, “Top Chef” judge Tom Colicchio probably would have been sent to pack his knives on Tuesday night.
Colicchio competed in the “Great American Family Dinner Challenge,” which pitted two teams of chefs against each other to see who could craft the tastiest multi-course meal for a family of four for less than $10. (For you foodies, Maria Hines and Holly Smith competed against Colicchio and Ming Tsai.)
White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass emceed the contest, and real-life families helped judge. But one 6-year-old boy apparently didn’t like several of the dishes (including Colicchio’s offerings) as he promptly spit out the food upon tasting it.
Colicchio and Tsai still won the contest, however.
Conference attendees also dined on delicious, nutritious and affordable food during the dinner. Chefs Floyd Cardoz, Michel Nischan, Koren Grieveson and Anne Quatrano each prepared family style meals that cost $4.50 per person.
Several big-name companies and organizations announced they are partnering with PHA to take substantive steps designed to help reduce childhood obesity. Their commitments are listed below.
- Hyatt Hotels: Will make its children’s and other menus healthier by adding healthy options, offering a fruit or vegetable as the default side for kids and reducing sodium content, among other changes.
- Kaiser Permanente: Support breastfeeding with new guidelines at all of its 29 hospitals that offer maternal and child health services.
- The Fresh Grocer: The Philadelphia-based company will build five new grocery stores in areas where people lack access to healthy and affordable foods.
- YMCA of the USA: The nationwide group, which serves about 700,000 kids each day, will establish standards for nutrition and physical activity for its out-of-school programs, and set limits on screen time.
- New Horizon Academy: The childcare company will set physical activity and nutritional standards at its 67 locations across the country.
- The Links, Incorporated: The women’s volunteer service organization, dedicated to ensuring the cultural and economic survival of African Americans, will work with its chapters to launch childhood obesity intervention programs.
Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch is senior writer and editor for PreventObesity.net, a website dedicated to building a network of leaders and supporters who care about reversing the childhood obesity epidemic. Sign up to become a PreventObesity Leader and receive future newsletters.