When former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt was a kid, there was a vacant lot at the end of the block in his neighborhood. But the space never sat empty.
“From the time the snow broke in the spring until it blew in the fall, there was a continual baseball game going on on that vacant lot,” Leavitt recalled. “A left field home run was Mrs. Dover’s lawn and a right field home run was Dr. Harding’s lawn. He was far less tolerant than Mrs. Dover, so consequently we all became pull hitters.”
These days, kids grow up in a very different world, Leavitt said. Many only exercise from being shuffled from one organized activity to another. Others get no exercise at all.
“They don’t play until dinnertime like often we did,” Leavitt said. “Some live in neighborhoods where there aren’t any safe places.”
Extending time for physical activity among children is among the 26 recommendations in a new report unveiled at a Washington press conference Tuesday by Leavitt and his colleagues at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative. (The report’s release was a tad overshadowed by Disney and First Lady Michelle Obama’s joint press conference to announce the company’s new marketing guidelines, which also took place Tuesday in Washington.)
Still, the BPC report unveiling yielded some star power. Titled “Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future,” the report was co-chaired by Leavitt, former U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Dan Glickman, former USDA Secretary Ann Veneman and former Health and Human Services Director Donna Shalala.
The report is part of a bipartisan call for U.S. policymakers, nonprofit groups, health advocates and the private sector to work together to reduce obesity. Glickman noted that besides the obvious health concerns, the nation simply can’t afford to ignore the obesity epidemic — it costs taxpayers $147 billion each year, he noted.
“If you think this is fluffy stuff about diet and exercise, or if you think this is about a nanny state, you are wrong,” added Glickman, who also helped craft obesity reduction recommendations put forth by the Institute of Medicine. “Responsible and sensible people on both sides of the aisle can get together and work together.”
Most of the recommendations put forth in the report aren’t outside the box. For example, the co-chairs recommend improving nutrition and physical education in schools and at childcare facilities and limiting the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children. They also encourage the federal government to work with the private sector to develop and implement workplace wellness programs, urge medical schools and residency programs to incorporate nutrition and physical activity training, ask local governments to improve infrastructure to make it easier for people to be active and support policy designed to promote breastfeeding, especially in hospitals.
The report also urges major institutions such as corporations, universities and government agencies to implement policies designed to get people eating healthier and moving more, which the co-chairs say will be a driving force and lead to positive change.
Shalala noted that as president of the University of Miami, she’s implemented a number of small changes to get her students healthier.
For example, she’s issued parking restrictions on campus so students walk between classes rather than depending on their cars. And while serving as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, Shalala was impressed by a football coach who had officials put the healthy food at the front of the buffet tables for his players, so when they went to get food, they’d automatically fill their plates with healthy items.
Making changes such as these don’t cost any money but have a big impact. “We already spend the money. What we need to do is redirect that spending,” Shalala added.
During a Q&A session, the co-chairs also praised New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for being a local leader in the obesity fight, although they didn’t express direct support for his effort to reduce the size of sugary drinks to 16 ounces. Bloomberg has been a “very significant leader in looking for solutions,” Shalala said, while Glickman noted that it’s important for local mayors and leaders to have room to try out policy in their communities.
Glickman, a former chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, noted that he often goes to the movies and notices the massive portion sizes offered to customers. When he went to the theater last weekend, he watched as one customer specifically asked for a smaller cup — and took it as a sign that customer portion preferences are changing.
Above all, the United States needs to shift its health care system from one that treats the sick to one that prevents people from getting sick the first place, the co-chairs agreed. Doing so won’t take just one silver bullet, but a number of solutions, they said. “This issue needs silver buckshot,” Glickman joked.
Don't miss the rest of the Inside Track! Click here to find out how you or a colleague could win $40,000 for being a leader in promoting health. Also, don't miss a Q&A with the director of Georgia's health department, who shares how the state is getting families into SHAPE. Plus, one PreventObesity.net Leader shares how she's helping kids get heart healthy.