The Partnership for a Healthier America's Building a Healthier Future Summit 2013

Michelle Obama's call to lead healthier lives and end childhood obesity.

By Margaret Nguyen and Adam Brown, diaTribe

The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) held its second Building a Healthier Future Summit on March 7-8, 2013, in Washington, D.C. The meeting addressed a challenging problem: how we can end childhood obesity. We enjoyed a celebrity-filled lineup of speakers that included First Lady Michelle Obama, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

Michelle  Obama – How We Can Help Parents Improve their Children's Health

Mrs. Obama was the most highly anticipated speaker for the summit. Her speech focused on three major topics: parents have the biggest impact on children's nutrition and activity; marketing healthy foods is responsible and profitable; and parents are role models and should care for their own health too. The continued theme throughout her talk was that parents, who are incredibly busy with the daily tasks of raising a family, are the ones who make the majority of health decisions for children. She believes the public and private sectors can work together to make "the healthy decision the easy decision," especially through smart marketing. Collaborating with PHA, businesses like Darden Restaurants, Disney, and Walmart are prioritizing healthier foods through selecting products they choose to advertise and how they feature them. We think that these companies are still in the initial stages of the changes that they can make, but we salute the early steps these companies have taken to promote healthier choices.

The First Lady also discussed encouraging policies and programs that are now in place. The Let's Move! Active Schools initiative will invest more than $70 million dollars to promote physical activity and to bring PE back to schools. Additionally, Reebok announced a "groundbreaking investment" of $30 million over the next three years to expand their support of organizations and initiatives that engage children and adults in physical activity. They are also renewing their pledge to the BOKS kids program. This is a before-school program that gets kids active before classes, and it's based on research that shows physical activity helps students learn better in schools.

Her last message was a reminder to parents not to forego caring for themselves. She empathized with parents as she reminded everyone (to laughter) that she "didn't always live in the White House." She remembered when "a grocery shopping trip required a finely honed plan of attack." Mrs. Obama explained that she understands the pressures parents face to truly take care of everything for their families, from the financial costs of providing for a family to safeguarding their children's health. At the same time, she asked that we re-orient this type of thinking and "make being healthy truly a family affair."    

All Star Speakers

Mayor Booker gave one of the most rousing speeches of the conference, emphasizing how pressing and important the issue of childhood obesity is. As he explained it, obesity is "eating away at the foundations of our children, consuming their potential and their dreams, raising the costs of living, [and] lowering the quality of life." Despite this grim outlook, he cautioned against cynicism, and argued that it is not a question of "can we?" but "do we have the collective will?" to better the health of our nation's children. Last, he called for setting specific and actionable goals for public-private partnerships. This was certainly a theme of the conference and the primary goal of PHA.

During the summit, Reebok also announced its dedication to help children become more active with talks by BOKS Founder and Executive director Kathleen Tullie and BOKS Ambassador Eli Manning. Both speakers were welcomed with loud applause for their involvement in the program. The before-school program was available in 200 schools in 2012, and Reebok has promised to help expand BOKS to more than 1,000 schools by 2015. With less than 4% of elementary schools providing daily physical education and only 57% scheduling a regular recess, BOKS serves a huge unmet need for kids to have more daily physical activity. Reebok has donated $5 million to BOKS over the past three years and has pledged to commit $2 million each year over the next three years to ensure that BOKS is able to expand to its target number for schools.

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Last Modified Date: May 20, 2013

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