The Alliance was founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation as a response to the growing rate of childhood obesity. And just like our founders, our goal as an organization has always been to create systemic change, change that is not isolated to one home, or community, to one school, industry, or state. We want to create healthy changes that build upon one another and create a system, a nation, that makes the healthy choice the easy choice.
First, we set our sights on schools. It’s where kids spend most of their time outside the home so it seemed like a good place to start. We created our Healthy Schools Program in 2006 and launched in 231 schools in 13 states. The Healthy Schools Program has since grown to become the nation’s most extensive effort to prevent childhood obesity in schools and is now building healthier school environments for more than 18 million students in more than 31,000 schools in every state and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Our work in schools got us thinking about the foods kids eat and time they are active. So we started focusing on those industries and companies that influence the food students eat at school and the opportunities they have for physical activity. We created a science-based set of nutrition guidelines for kids and then went to companies who enjoyed 90 percent of the school food and beverage market and asked them to play a role in the fight against obesity. The result has been our facilitation of brokering agreements that get companies to create products and services that met our nutrition guidelines and physical activity standards. Our landmark agreement with the beverage industry, for example, has since resulted in a 90% reduction in beverage calories shipped to schools during the 2004-2010 school years.
We know schools aren’t the only places kids are spending their time. It’s estimated that at least 8 million youth participate in afterschool programs, community centers, clubs and camps. We took what we’ve learned in schools and applied that knowledge to those environments where kids spend their time outside of school. We created a science-based framework that helps Healthy Out-of-School Time providers increase healthy eating and physical activity at their sites. Now 6,300 out-of-school time sites around the country are using our framework to improve wellness for their kids.
Finally, to create true systemic change, we had to not only focus our efforts on the environments kids spend their time but also on the sources where they and their families get their professional health advice. We turned to the healthcare system— medical associations, leading insurers and employers that provide healthcare benefits to millions of children. We developed the Healthier Generation Benefit and are working with more than 56,000 doctors and registered dieticians to provide access to preventive care and treatment for childhood obesity. We’ve come a long way but we know that there is still a lot to do. Our story is only as good as those inspiring individuals we have had the chance to work with and we hope that you will become one of them.