Brooklyn Convenience Store

Anti-Obesity Partnerships Beyond the Usual Suspects

Leah WhighamThe Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) held its annual summit – Innovating a Healthier Future – last week in Washington, DC. PHA came to life in 2010 as an offshoot of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign. The mission is to “leverage the power of the private sector to bring lasting systemic changes that improve the food supply, increase healthy choices, increase physical activity, and contribute to a culture of health.” The key concept here is partnerships.

Business Practices with an Impact

Many in the world of public health are too quick to assume the partnerships for improving public health are limited to governmental agencies, NGOs, and academia, but PHA works to encourage and support voluntary business practices that improve healthy choices and lead to new norms for nutrition and physical activity. The advantage of including commercial partners is the ability to harness great marketing expertise and brand recognition (not to mention, marketing budgets) to shift consumer decisions and behaviors toward healthier options.

Partnerships in the Spotlight

The summit served to highlight important progress with some of these partnerships. These examples illustrate what is possible.

McDonald’s has committed to making its Happy Meals healthier by limiting calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar; adding water as a beverage option; and taking soft drinks off of the menu board. They are also using the McPlay Happy Meal app to reward kids for making healthier choices.

John Hancock Life Insurance, recognizing that the life insurance industry has a lot to gain if its customers are healthier, is partnering with Walmart to discounts on healthy foods marked with the green “Great for You” labels.

The National Confectioners Association, a group that includes chocolate and candy makers, has committed to providing healthier options to their customers, including lower sugar versions and smaller portion sizes of their most-loved candies and chocolates.

The National Association of Convenience Stores is working with members to add fruits, vegetables, and other healthier options to convenience and corner stores. Partnership with The Food Trust has led to financing initiatives that allow business to apply for loans or grants to modify their retail space so they can sell healthier foods.

The Produce Marketing Association is partnering with Sesame Street in the eat brighter! campaign to motivate kids to eat more fruits and vegetables using Sesame Street characters.

Additional companies represented at the summit and partners of PHA include Novo Nordisk,
Kellogg, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nike, Dannon, and Campbell.

Diverse Partnerships

Partnerships are by no means limited to the commercial sector. PHA also sparked the Healthier Campus Initiative. It’s for university and college campuses that commit to meeting 23 of 41 guidelines within three years. The goal is healthier campus environments for faculty, staff, and students. Feeding America, a nation-wide network of food banks, food pantries, and meal programs, has committed to increasing distribution of fruits and vegetables and healthy options from donors and for recipients.

There is plenty of work to be done in the areas of nutrition, physical activity, and obesity. Working together and leveraging the resources and expertise of all sectors makes a lot of sense.

For more on the PHA and the potential of partnerships against obesity, click here and here. You can find more on McDonald’s efforts here, on eat brighter! here, and on the Healthier Campus Initiative here.

Today’s guest post comes from our good friend Leah Whigham, Executive Director of the Paso del Norte Institute for Healthy Living and a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Brooklyn Convenience Store, photograph © Steven Pisano / flickr

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May 6, 2018