WASHINGTON – The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), which is working with Honorary Chair First Lady Michelle Obama and the private sector toward a goal of ending childhood obesity in a generation, released on March 8 its first report on the progress of private sector commitments to address the epidemic.
While the vast majority of the PHA’s partners are just beginning a multi-year journey, others are in full swing — and a few have completed their commitments. The results, highlighted in the report titled “In it for good,” suggest the organizations are stepping forward in a big way.
“Our partner organizations are making changes to their operations and their business practices that help make healthier choices easier for busy parents and families,” said Lawrence A. Soler, chief executive officer of the PHA. “This report is about holding a mirror up to efforts against those commitments — many of which are multi-year — and giving the public a clear understanding of their progress.”
The PHA has said it wants to help 10 million Americans gain access to healthier foods by 2016, adding that 23.5 million people in the United States — including 6.5 million children — have no nearby access to options like fresh produce or cannot afford to buy it. If steps are not taken, about half of all Americans will be obese by 2030, the PHA said.
The PHA requires its partners must agree to measureable outcomes that are verified by third parties and reported publicly by the PHA.
Major headway noted by the PHA in its report include:
• 2.95 million children “got moving” in 2012
• 8,100 new physical activity opportunities became available for children in 2012
• 1,713 cities had physical activity promotion events in 2012
• 141 new or renovated grocery stores or other retail locations have opened in or around food deserts
• 507,293 low-access individuals have been served by new or renovated grocery stores so far
• $18 million has been spent in the last 18 months in financing for new retail channels and innovative food distribution programs.
“We know the private sector alone cannot solve this crisis — it will take work from everyone, including communities, schools, non-profits, governments, families and more,” Soler said. “PHA commends our partners for the remarkable goals they have set to help make it easier for kids and families to make the healthy choice.”
Healthy food access is a major component of the PHA’s mission, and several partner companies made strides in 2012 toward meeting their goals, including SuperValu, Walgreens and Birds Eye.
SuperValu in 2011 committed to a five-year plan to open 250 grocery stores in commercially viable locations that are located in, around or primarily serving food deserts. Between July 2011 and July 2012, the company said it opened 48 new Save-A-Lot grocery stores located in or around food deserts, putting it nearly 20 percent toward its goal of 250 stores by 2016.
“Save-A-Lot’s unique format, small footprint and limited grocery assortment deliver a grocery shopping experience in a store that is often one-quarter the size of traditional grocery stores,” SuperValu noted in the report. “The smaller formats, streamlined operations and edited assortment allow Save-A-Lot to deliver affordable prices for its customers.”
Meanwhile, at Walgreens, the company in 2011 committed to a five-year plan to expand access to fruits and vegetables in a minimum of 1,000 stores, and up to 2,000 stores, located in or around food deserts. In the PHA report, Walgreens said 50 of its stores began offering fruits and vegetables between August 2011 and November 2012, and the total number of people served by Walgreens stores offering expanded fruits and vegetables now totals 473,593. In the past year, the company opened ‘food oasis’ locations in Indianapolis, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., as well as several dozen in Chicago.
“These stores increased their food selection by offering a larger assortment of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and other healthy meal components to help address the need for greater access to affordable, nutritious food,” Walgreens noted in the PHA report. “As Walgreens continues to learn more about the needs in these communities and the food offerings in this store format, the company plans to see more growth toward its PHA goal as new learnings are streamlined into the planning and development process.”
Birds Eye began its commitment to the PHA last year, and in the first six months of its partnership focused on providing healthier food options to children.
“Birds Eye is using crowd-sourced, kid-created recipe ideas to develop kid-friendly tips and recipes,” the company noted in the PHA report. “Over the next two years, Birds Eye will bring to market new veggie-based products inspired by kids and will distribute 150 million coupons and use text messaging to promote nutrition education. With dishes like Veggie Cupcakes, iTasty Corn Pizza with Pumpkin and Taste Tester Corn Jalapeno Dip, Birds Eye enabled kids to get excited about their veggies and provided parents with a solution at the store and on the table.”