Connecting the dots to Gang up on Obesity

By Derek Yach

In America, according to National Health Statistics, the prevalence of obesity among adults has increased from 13% in 1960 to 35.6% in 2010, a figure that skyrockets to 69.2% if you include the overweight and obese. In this same age group, today 25.6 million people have diabetes.

Yesterday was World Diabetes Day, and this week Obesity Week – a conference bringing together academics and practitioners to talk about everything from prevention to treatment, with a slight emphasis on treatment – is going on in Atlanta. It seems opportune to reflect on how seemingly disparate puzzle pieces may fit together.

The idea that companies should redefine their purpose as creating “shared value”, generating economic value in a way that also contributes to addressing society’s needs and challenges, is not new. This goes beyond traditional Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, as companies have to adapt their business model to integrate this additional mission to their operations. The good news is that legal frameworks are being developed to help empower companies to embrace this “shared value” approach, thanks to the B-Corp entity. A company defined as a B-corporation is mandated with the mission of creating value not just for shareholders, but for society as a whole, and must include elements such as the environmental impact or the health of their employees into their reporting.

I touch upon this in the article “Food Industry: Friend or Foe?” that came out last week in Obesity Reviews, as companies including Nestlé and PepsiCo have embarked on a similar path with their “Creating Shared Value” and “Performance with Purpose” mission statements, respectively. Financial reports from UBS and Merrill Lynch have also started placing a spotlight on companies which are actively fighting against obesity, so that shareholders and investors can factor this commitment to change into their financial decisions. As healthier companies may have a better bottom line, this makes perfect sense.

If we want real change, the key is open discourse between and within the public and private sectors, the academics and policy makers, and the broader public. We need more collaborations for impact, whether partnerships such as the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which was founded by two non-profits and bringing together private sector companies and schools to curb childhood obesity, or initiatives like Broccoli’s Extreme Makeover, which stemmed from a journalist talking to an advertising agency.

In other words, it is time to set aside any differences there may be between us so we can gang up on obesity.

To join the conversation, follow us on Twitter – Derek Yach @swimdaily and The Vitality Institute @VitalityInst.

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