For 18 years I helped lead the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) efforts to address one of the costliest and most damaging health epidemics facing our nation: child obesity. One of our key roles at CDC was to rigorously review scientific evidence to develop guidelines on the most effective practices communities could implement to prevent obesity. From my perspective at the nation’s leading public health agency, the one organization that was doing the most to help communities implement effective obesity prevention practices was the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
That’s why I took the CEO position at the Alliance in May. This amazing organization was founded by the Clinton Foundation, in partnership with the American Heart Association, in 2005. And its remarkable achievements to date reflect the visionary leadership and scientific integrity of its founders.
Reversing childhood obesity is one of the greatest public health causes of our time. The rates of obesity and overweight among young people in the U.S. have tripled over the past generation. Obesity, and the physical inactivity and poor dietary habits that contribute so greatly to it, are associated with many of the leading causes of death, illness, and rising health care costs. A growing body of scientific evidence has documented the deleterious effects that poor health choices have on academic achievement. And, as a growing chorus of retired generals and admirals have warned, the obesity epidemic threatens our national security by dramatically reducing the number of young people who are fit to serve in the armed forces.
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation was one of the first national organizations formed to reverse the obesity epidemic, and it is one of the few that has demonstrated through rigorous evaluations powerful impact on children’s health. We work with schools, afterschool programs, companies, health care professionals, and families to transform the conditions and systems that lead to healthier children. This holistic approach, combined with an intensive focus on creating systemic change, helps explain why the Alliance is making a difference.
We are starting to see some progress, as child obesity rates finally have started to stabilize across the nation.
Systemic change doesn’t happen overnight, though. It’s taken us a long time to get into the mess that we have with childhood obesity, and it will take us a long time to get out of this hole. We are starting to see some progress, though, as child obesity rates finally have started to stabilize across the nation.
We have even seen some small declines in obesity rates among low-income preschoolers. A recent Vital Signs report from CDC reported such decreases in 18 states with most of the other states showing a steady leveling off in obesity rates among low-income young children. This encouraging trend shows that our obesity prevention efforts are starting to pay off, but we are still far from reversing the epidemic.
There’s a lot of work left for the 115 extraordinary individuals who comprise the staff of the Alliance. It is work to which we are passionately committed, because we love our children and we know that improving their health is critical to the future of our nation.