Partner Ship

Building Partnerships That Work Against Obesity

No doubt about it, the current environment is a challenging one for building partnerships in every sector of American life. Obesity, health, and food policy are no exceptions. Yet, five years of work by the Partnership for a Healthier America has built partnerships and delivered some of the most notable successes of First Lady Michelle Obama’s signature Let’s Move! program.

Not everyone thinks such efforts are helpful. A significant contingent of public health advocates believe that “public-private partnerships in these areas [diseases related to tobacco, poor diet, physical inactivity, and alcohol] can counteract efforts to protect and promote public health,” as Kim Raine explained in a debate at the 2013 Canadian Obesity Summit. But she went on to explain her belief that policies and codes of conduct can minimize such risks.

In the six years since it was founded, the First Lady Michelle Obama and the Partnership for a Healthier America appear to be doing just that. A detailed analysis by Politico recently concluded that some of her biggest accomplishments have been in the private sector:

The first lady has also pulled along the private sector, nudging them to make substantial changes that most people will never associate with her. America’s largest food and beverage manufacturers cut 6.4 trillion calories out of the food supply, in part by tweaking their recipes. Olive Garden and Red Lobster swapped fruits and vegetables in for fries on kids’ menus; Walmart cut back on sodium.

Advocates who are stuck on trying to replay battles against tobacco in the realm of obesity policy are missing an important point. Healthy skepticism may be needed. But real solutions will never happen without genuine engagement by the private sector broadly and the food industry specifically.

In that regard, the work of the first lady and the Partnership for a Healthier America gives us much to celebrate as the Partnership opens its 2016 summit in Washington, DC, today.

Click here for more perspective on public-private partnerships from Dr. Sharma’s Obesity Notes.

Partner Ship, photograph © Ingrid Taylar / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


May 19, 2016

2 Responses to “Building Partnerships That Work Against Obesity”

  1. May 19, 2016 at 6:20 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Hear hear, Ted. Thank you.

    I hope the meeting goes very well!!


    • May 19, 2016 at 7:36 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Joe. Discomfort of thought is a good thing!