May 15
May 15, 2014

Six #KidsHealthMatters Highlights


On May 8, the Clinton Health Matters Initiative (CHMI), in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and Grantmakers in Health (GIH) hosted a daylong forum, “Closing the Gap in Childhood Obesity: A Forum Without Walls.”  The forum addressed access and equity barriers to healthy living, in order to create solutions regarding the disparities in childhood obesity in the United States and was broken into four panels, which addressed 1) the responsibility of all sectors in combatting childhood obesity 2) access to healthy foods 3) access to physical activity and 4) forward thinking solutions. 

The conference brought together more than 250 thought leaders across sectors and truly created a forum without walls by engaging hundreds of people across the country through Livestream, and having our online audience participate in the panel discussions by asking questions with the hashtag #KidsHealthMatters.

Below are a few of our favorite moments from the event:

One: Inspiration Drives Change

Opening up our panel on access to healthy food was Haile Thomas, a youth health advocate who works with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to inspire kids to live healthier. Although Haile saw her father battle with type II diabetes, she also saw him completely reverse his diabetes when he began eating healthier foods. This gave Haile the inspiration to help others achieve good health. With the support of teachers, mentors, adults, and youth partners, Haile has created an organization to help others achieve a healthy lifestyle.

One of Haile’s messages to the audience was that creating partnerships with kids is effective in creating change. This is what she had to say:

I’ve had the honor of working with hundreds of kids and I’ve learned that when kids are given the proper tools and resources, they will make healthy choices and inspire their friends and families to do the same….
Two: How We See—Stigma or Opportunity?

In our panel for opportunities to be physically active, Eli Wolff, the Program Director for Inclusive Sports Initiative at the Institute for Human Centered Design, shared his thoughts on the importance of creating an environment that is conducive to physical activity and inclusive to all kids. He added that inclusivity should not just be defined as direct physical access, but that it should also be defined by attitude.

Wolff challenged us to think about how we view those on society’s margins when he brought forth the questions:

What pair of glasses are we wearing? Are we seeing [disability] from a negative light, as a downer or something you want to stay away from—stigma? Or do we see [disability] as a real opportunity, as a place to be innovative, as a place to be amazing, to be beautiful. How are we using our glasses?...How do we go from a medical model, a charity model, a pat someone on the head model, to actually seeing someone as an empowerment model, as a source of dignity and respect.

–Eli Wolff

Three: An Emerging Leader of Health

Andrew Smith, student athlete, opened up our last panel on next steps in curbing the childhood obesity disparity rates. Even though he was a varsity athlete, Andrew was a victim of childhood obesity, due to poor eating choices. During his junior year, Andrew’s football coach challenged him to lose 20 pounds to become a better player. Andrew took on this challenge and by the end of his senior season he lost 100 pounds. Andrew, however, did not lose his weight easily. Due to living in an urban area, he often found it difficult to find healthy food options. With the support of his coach and family, Andrew was able to overcome his health obstacles.

Andrew stated that football has changed his life; it inspired him to be healthier in order to be the best player that he could be. As a result of his perseverance and improved athleticism, Andrew became a role model and a leader, earning the titles of team captain, offensive line captain, and all-conference honors. Additionally, being a healthy athlete opened up doors for his future, and he is taking the opportunity to be a leader in health and help others live healthier:

I will be attending King University and I will be studying physical education and exercise science. I would love to help eliminate obesity and make our world a healthier place. 

– Andrew Smith


Four: Action Steps for Active Kids

In our second panel on opportunities for physical activity, Caitlin Morris, the North America Executive Director of Access to Sport for NIKE Inc. gave action steps on how to incorporate movement into children’s lives.

1) Create early positive experiences for children
     • Children are consumers and they will opt out if the experience isn’t a good one.
     • We can’t squander the opportunities in which children can be active.

2) Integrate physical activity into everyday life
     • Since we have built cities were the transportation’s agenda is for cars, not for people, we need to start talking about physical activity as the natural thing to do.

3) Involve parents
     • It does start home. Family time needs to be active time.
     • Family time needs to be spent being physically active, rather than eating and shopping.

4) Change the environment that children are in
     • Creating active schools—during and after the school day.
     • Reset the youth sports experience. The youth sports experience in this country is broken because it is intended to serve only elite athletes.

Five: Media Can Empower People

Throughout the forum, panelists spoke about the impact, both positive and negative, that media has on youth and families in regards to health choices. Dr. Richard Carmona, 17th Surgeon General of the United States, commented on how public health issues rarely make headlines, and therefore citizens are not given the opportunity to ask questions and empower themselves. The panelists in our fourth panel all agreed that working with the media is critical in reducing health disparities.

Public health has never been sexy. Body counts draw the media. War draws the media. Science doesn’t sell for science itself … You have to figure out how to spin [public health issues] so it does get a headline and then you get more people to ask questions … If we can empower the people to understand, they will demand healthier things.

– Dr. Richard Carmona


Six: Next Steps

At the end of our fourth session, the panel was asked to state what messages they thought were the most important to take away from the forum:

1) Collect the data that informs, convene partners that make a difference, converse about what needs to be done, and carry out an action plan.
2) Talk about the solutions more than the problem. By presenting solutions, we have the ability to inspire ideas in others.
3) Find the channels to make our efforts sustainable and bring them to scale
4) Shine the brightest light possible on the success stories and the faces of those who are making a difference.
5) Have a sense of urgency in creating and implementing solutions.

Watch the full forum here: