The inaugural summit of the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), “Building a Healthier Future,” was held this week in Washington, DC. The PHA was established as a parallel to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to eliminate childhood obesity in one generation. I was fortunate to represent Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors initiative at the summit as one of few representatives from the environmental community.
The summit’s message was clear: we must make the healthy choice, the easy choice. With over 800 industry and civic leaders, primarily from the health sector, I was there to contribute a voice for the role our urban, state and national green spaces (as well as dedicated mentors) play in encouraging childhood physical activity and wellness. Our mission is “outdoors,” and we are finding that there are innumerable co-benefits to the health and wellbeing of our children from the work we and many of our partners are doing to connect kids with nature. And the health community is beginning to recognize our contributions, as well.
Throughout the two-day summit, I was reinvigorated by some of our most distinguished leaders. PHA’s honorary vice-chairs, Former US Senate Majority Leader William Frist and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, kicked off the opening session, announcing their commitment to work to build a healthier future. Booker had the crowd rolling with a tale about the time someone told him that what he wanted to do was impossible. Then he got serious and let us know that the “greatest threat to democracy in America is the health and wellbeing of our children,” and reminded us that “change will not roll in on the train of inevitability.”
Throughout the two days, I participated in break out sessions addressing the sedentary lives of children. The Executive Director of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, Shellie Pfohl led a session called “not every energy crisis is about oil; getting our kids moving again.” She challenged us to think more collectively about the commitments that need to be made to get kids off the couch, away from the television and physically active again. One of the ideas on the table was the establishment of the National Physical Activity Plan for Kids, which would be an extension of the National Physical Activity Plan (Sierra Club co-chairs an advocacy strategy around Parks, Recreation, Fitness and Sports for the Plan).
The summit ended on a high note, with closing remarks by PHA’s honorary chair, First Lady Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama reminded us of some of the sobering statistics:
- One in three children is overweight or obese, with higher prevalence in low-income communities
- One-fourth of American kids play outside, down from three-fourths of all children just one generation ago
- Only about half of all young people have playgrounds, parks or even sidewalks in their neighborhoods
- Obesity has become one of the greatest threats to our national security as nearly 27% of 17-24 year olds are too heavy to serve in the military and additional training to ensure servicemen and women are combat ready is costing our country millions of dollars
Following a good reality check, the First Lady also instilled in the crowd the hope and motivation to tackle the challenge of childhood obesity. Appealing to a common sense of nostalgia for those of us over thirty years old, the First Lady conjured up images of the time when we were kids and we played outside and didn’t come home until dinner time. She encouraged us to “make play cool again,” and to dig deeper into our individual and collective abilities to help kids have healthier and more active lives.
The summit made me proud to work for the Sierra Club and the commitment our organization has made to connecting kids and families from all walks of life (including our nation’s youngest heroes – military kids) with the wonders of the natural world where they can be inspired and physically active. Visit our website to learn more about how you can contribute to getting kids moving again in nature.