Reflections from the Childhood Obesity Conference

Last week three representatives from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership (National Partnership) attended the Childhood Obesity Conference in Long Beach, CA. The Childhood Obesity Conference brings together advocates, funders, public health professionals and agency staff from across the United States to focus on the challenges of reducing obesity in our communities. It was packed with awesome presentations, fun activities breaks and opportunities for networking.

The National Partnership had the opportunity to lead two physical activity breaks which were great fun. The first was a Fire Up Your Feet Mad Lib which got the entire conference flapping their arms, stomping their feet and kicking their legs. The second was a walk with Kaiser Permanente doctor, David Cuan, MD, SCPMG, where we walked 1.4 miles and toured the Long Beach Water front to see sights such as the Queen Mary, the Port of Long Beach and the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Beyond the excitement and energy at the conference, there were some key takeaways. The first is that any solution to the obesity epidemic will require a multi-sectoral solution. Active transportation, school wellness policies, workplace activity breaks, food labeling, and even private sector regulation will all be necessary to change the course that America is on today. What is exciting is that we can do it and that we are already building the partnerships that will achieve this change.

The second takeaway for me was that we have a lot to learn in the active transportation field from tobacco and food advocates. They have been fighting against large corporate interests for decades and have developed strategies and tools for working with or against these interests. In the active transportation realm we have primarily been working with and sometimes against government agencies to achieve our interests, but there are huge private interests that are deeply invested in business as usual such as automobile industry, the fossil fuel industry, the highway lobby, unions, and the business community. These are all elephants in the room that we will need to face at some point down the road.

The final point I’ll touch upon was coalition building and expanding our partnerships to nontraditional partners. We need to find shared goals that will allow us to work with some of our potential adversaries. For example, here in Southern California, we passed the 2012 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Community Strategy to help coordinate land use and transportation decisions. Unfortunately, now that the housing market has picked up in many places we are seeing business as usual with the building of suburban greenfield developments because regulations make infill development time consuming and costly. One of our next steps as active transportation advocates should be to sit down with the building industry to find common ground on how we can make some common sense changes to our general plans and environmental regulations that will allow us to achieve our goals while still allowing the private sector to make a profit.

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