First, consider these distressing facts: the average American consumes 31 percent more calories—including 56 percent more calories from fats and oils—than in 1970. During the last 40 years, the average American’s sugar intake increased by 15 pounds. One study found that 80% of overweight children ages 10-15 grew to be obese adults by age 25.
Moving Americans toward a healthier and more active future is a challenge that four former cabinet secretaries are uniquely qualified to tackle. On March 28, the BPC launched its latest project, the Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative, co-chaired by former Secretaries of Agriculture Dan Glickman and Ann M. Veneman and former Secretaries of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt and Donna E. Shalala. Given that the effort to improve personal health in America faces multiple obstacles, the BPC found it important to engage the public on the vital issues of nutrition education and physical activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 34 percent of adults and 17 percent of children are obese—both figures represent dramatic increases over the last 30 years. We know that obesity contributes to increased rates in type-two diabetes, high-blood pressure, and heart disease, all of which contribute to rising health care costs.
In addition to policy details, the co-chairs of the new initiative are very interested in the practical tools and solutions that ordinary Americans, businesses, educational institutions, and non-profit groups can utilize to help in the battle against obesity and disease. The co-chairs believe that we must do more to provide adequate and relevant information to all Americans so that healthy, informed decision-making is not just a privilege of the few, but the norm for all. That means working with hospitals and other health care providers to insure patients are receiving key nutrition information; looking at the private sector to see what programs they are implementing for their workers and ways to replicate those across the nation; and looking at large institutions such as universities to identify whether or not their procurement processes are aligned with promoting healthy food choices.
Healthy eating and fitness are both instrumental in reducing health care costs and increasing the longevity of all Americans. The co-chairs will hold the first forum of the initiative at the University of Miami on April 20, 2011, one of many that will be held across the nation in an effort to engage as many Americans and stakeholders as possible on these issues. The year-long effort will culminate in the release of a set of policy recommendations next year for the administration, Congress, and the private sector to consider.
Everyone can get involved with the challenge of improving the health of Americans—we hope this new initiative will start a conversation on the road toward a healthier and more vibrant American society.