Obesity Plans Need Funding to Work


Last month, the fitness industry saw quite a flurry of activity in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives introduced a Healthy Choices Act, the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (along with other organizations) introduced a National Physical Activity Plan, and the Childhood Obesity Taskforce, requested by President Barack Obama and headed by First Lady Michelle Obama, released a 70-point plan for decreasing childhood obesity.

As I reviewed these plans for a story in this issue, part of me felt good to see groups coming together to create these plans. However, another part of me kept wondering, who's going to fund all this? These are just plans that could fall by the wayside unless they have funding.

I recalled a conversation I had a few years ago with Dr. Kenneth Cooper, founder of the Cooper Aerobics Center. At the time, the Texas legislature mandated that students take a fitness test, but they did not fund the mandate. So, Dr. Cooper took it upon himself to raise the necessary $2.5 million to fund it.

Will we need to do the same with these plans? Helen Durkin, executive vice president of public policy for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), says the groups that worked on the National Physical Activity Plan are actively seeking funding for it.

Of course, concerns about how the Healthy Choices Act will be funded are moot unless that bill actually is passed. And the possibility of that happening is slim,according to Durkin. She expects it will take several sessions of lobbying, and possibly the attachment of various parts of this bill onto other bills, for it to pass.

Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), who introduced the act, had plenty of big guns standing beside him during the press conference announcing the bill: Reps. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH); Audrey Tayse Haynes, senior vice president of the YMCA of the USA; Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association; Pam Bailey, CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA); Richard Wolford, chairman, president and CEO of Del Monte Foods and chairman of GMA; and Penny Lee, executive director of the Campaign to End Obesity. However, it's an election year, so politicians are more focused on campaigning in their home states than sitting in House or Senate committees discussing new bills.

And heck, even if they were in their committees, it doesn't mean they'd ever see the Healthy Choices Act appear on their agendas. The Workforce Health Improvement Program (WHIP) Act and the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act have never even made it out of subcommittee, which they must do first before going to a full committee and then possibly going to the full House or Senate for a vote. Why should we expect any more attention on the Healthy Choices Act than on those bills?

So, why even put this bill together in the first place? Well, for politicians, it's a way to show that they care about the obesity problem (even if they never go any further than introducing the bill). For the fitness industry, it's a way to put together a comprehensive approach to treating obesity that brings together industry, government and the nonprofits. Durkin calls the bill a “placeholder” bill.

“It's a placeholder bill for our nation's best policy ideas for moving the needle back on obesity,” she says. “It's a great roadmap for any legislator interested in fighting obesity.”

A roadmap. I guess you have to start somewhere. I just hope these plans don't stop there, too.

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