Being at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit 2013

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March 14, 2013
By Jim Sallis
Being at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit 2013

I was one of about 1000 attendees at the Partnership for Healthier America (PHA) Summit 2013. My expectations were high, having heard that 2013 was the year PHA would focus on active living. I was not disappointed. PHA operates mainly by obtaining commitments from corporate sponsors that will contribute to children's active living and healthy eating. The good news began the previous week when PHA announced Let's Move Active Schools (LMAS), supported by a coalition of groups and fueled by an eye-popping $50 million from Nike. This is a suitable follow-up to the Designed to Move report released last year that signaled Nike's serious entry to physical activity promotion. I give PHA credit for making LMAS a joint initiative of leading funders, school programs, and professional groups, including Child Obesity 180 (supported by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), Alliance for a Healthier Generation, AAHPERD, the President's Council, and DHHS/CDC. Having all these groups working together is good for the field. I am pleased to serve on the Evaluation Committee, so we will see what the outcomes are.

The other big news specific to physical activity came at the end of the conference, when Reebok announced a huge $30 million commitment to expand its BOKS before-school activity program. They made a splash by having quarterback Eli Manning speak at the event. He said watching kids enjoying their before-school activities was as exciting as winning the Super Bowl. Having two major sporting goods companies make major commitments to youth physical activity is a major milestone in our field, and I hope other companies will start investing in getting many people active rather than spending all their marketing money on sports celebrities.

The opening session was fascinating. Dr. William Frist, former Senator and Honorary Co-Chair of PHA, interviewed leaders of the foundations that fund PHA. The most interesting question was "what mistakes have we made". A couple of the panelists talked about being late to engage the grassroots in supporting the policy and environmental changes that the childhood obesity movement has pursued. I agree that we all need to work harder to create a public "demand" for change among parents in particular that is needed to generate political will. The panel ended on an optimistic note, emphasizing that change is happening. Several speakers throughout the Summit pointed to recent evidence of declines in childhood obesity in states and cities that have been working hard to achieve this goal.

The corporate presence called for higher production values than I am accustomed to. The stage had a custom-made backdrop. Every segment of the program was accompanied by well produced videos. During lunch, celebrity chefs had a cook-off with the recipes that were then served to attendees. At the closing session PHA Honorary Co-Chair Corey Booker, Mayor of Newark, demonstrated why he is a rising star. Of course, Michelle Obama was the show-stopper. She used examples from her own life to illustrate the challenges parents face in trying to help children lead healthy lifestyles. She was a captivating speaker who closed the Summit on an inspiring note. I could sense gratitude and validation among the crowd that the most famous U.S. First Lady is leading this critical movement. Oddly, she barely mentioned physical activity.

I moderated a session on youth physical activity programming. Three dynamic leaders talked about their impressive programs. Paul Caccamo from Up2Us made an impassioned plea about the need to professionalize youth coaches to improve their impact on physical activity and youth development in general. He said one of his goals was to render obsolete our group's study findings that youth were surprisingly inactive during sports practices. Jill Vialet from PlayWorks told about how their recess supervisors create a positive environment on the schoolyard. She reported findings from an evaluation that bullying was reduced in PlayWorks schools. Lori Rose Benson from the Y of Greater New York City described their after school programs that serve about 250,000 youth annually. Someone from NCAA asked what a program like theirs, based on high-level competition, could do. All the speakers had good suggestions, and they pointed out that our competitive sport system shuts out children, starting at young ages. My suggestion was to take responsibility for reducing sitting time among the thousands of spectators during games by doing an activity break and encouraging TV viewers to get up and move.

Our breakout session had tough competition, because at the same time Robert Wood Johnson Foundation CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey was announcing the new DHHS report on Strategies to Increase Physical Activity Among Youth. The main conclusion is that there are several school-based interventions, such as active physical education, with strong evidence of effectiveness. There was suggestive evidence for interventions in preschool and childcare settings and for supportive built environments such as walkable neighborhoods, parks, and facilities for active transportation. Notably, some common sense interventions such as family-based, health care, and after school programs do not have evidence of effectiveness. This report should help decision makers in government, public health, education, other sectors, and community groups set priorities in how they should spend their time and money in promoting youth physical activity.

There is no substitute for gathering the tribe in person. Being with leaders of this movement, hearing about successes, and being inspired by young people and new faces doing great things, motivated me to keep chipping away at the obstacles to progress. Several people mentioned to me they routinely use Active Living Research materials in their work with decision makers and practitioners. That was music to my ears. The organizers did a wonderful job of managing a big and complicated event. But coming just one week after Active Living Research's highly active conference, I thought PHA could do more to help attendees be active. One stretch break and an activity session at the crack of dawn is not integrating activity into the meeting. I challenge PHA to make the next Summit a model for an active meeting.

Here are my requests of you:

  1. Please read the new Strategies report, put most of your effort into implementing evidence-based strategies, and pursue the strategies with suggestive evidence but evaluate them.
  2. Share your own comments here on the MOVE blog about the PHA Summit, the Strategies report, and Let's Move Active Schools.

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