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Is a New Health Commitment Group a Positive Collaboration?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I received this blog link in my e-mail inbox last week. As the mother of high school students and a nutrition professional, I had mixed feelings about the information it contained.

On one hand I was excited that a new Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation has been created to "help reduce obesity, especially childhood obesity by 2015." That is a great thing right? Healthy living is something our company is very interested in and what I spend my time promoting each day. The e-mail however raised concerns with brand marketing that would take place in public schools. The headline and information shared made me a little concerned so I did a little more research.

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation is a CEO-led organization made up of over "100 retailers, food and beverage manufacturers, restaurants, sporting goods and insurance companies, trade associations and non-governmental organizations (NGO's) and professional sports organizations." That seems like a great collaborative focus that will provide far-reaching benefits. The collaboration will be focusing on three different areas.

  • The Marketplace - To Control Calories While Preserving Nutrition A variety of companies from Campbell's and General Mills to Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, and Sara Lee have created initiatives that focus on healthier alternatives for many of our favorite products. This is a good thing and something that can provide a great deal of benefit for all our families by changing the items produced for consumption.

  • The Workplace - To Help Employees Learn to Live Healthier Lifestyles This is something our company takes very seriously. At SparkPeople, most of our employees "live the brand" and we want other companies to encourage healthy living with their employees as well. Encouraging companies to promote employee wellness programs is a great initiative and one we hope really takes off.

  • The Schools - To Help Students Learn to Combine Nutrition and Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight With a focus on elementary aged children from 6-11, a teaching program is being developed with a focus on energy balance. The American Dietetic Association and the PE4life organizations are serving as partners in program development. A new online resource called energy balance 101 has been designed to help teachers and families find information and resources to make positive lifestyle changes. Discovery Education and Parents magazine are also a part of this initiative. These are all education-focused groups that know how to deliver health related information. Providing nutrition and exercise information to school age children and families has been lacking in public education. This alliance seems to be a great way to get reliable information to those that are interested in receiving it.
Spreading health and wellness information that helps people live healthier lives and achieve healthier weights is what we focus on every day. It is exciting to learn of new initiatives being developed to promote healthier choices in the marketplace, improved employee health options, and teaching healthy habits to elementary aged children. I hope we see healthier product options on our store shelves very soon. Although employee health initiatives will be up to each company and small business, more than likely this area will take off as companies seek to keep their health care costs as low as possible. Since states have individual education standards, it will be interesting to see how some of these new education modules may fit into already existing curriculums. As far as the main concern of the blog related to brand marketing in schools, we will have to see. Many brands are already in our schools .It will be interesting to see if healthier options begin to show up.

What do you think? Should there be any concern with this new initiative and brand marketing in schools? Isn't this collaboration a positive move in the right direction?

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The problem is what kids have access to at school: bad options for food and snacks, little or no exercing and no teaching. When I was in elementary I remember a nutrionist coming to school once. Once in 7 years! Once I got into junior high, we had PE but I mostly sat around doing nothing and in high school I had 2 PE type classes in 4 years. Public school have to do so much cutting back that the children suffer for it and in all my years in school, there were very few healthy food options I was glad when I could take my lunch. When I got to college and was in charge of my own food and exercise, I lost weight but not everyone is as motivated as me.

What needs to be done is making healthy, fresh food more affordable and PE a requirement each school semester for each grade K-12 and a nutrition class at least once a month. With these changes then maybe we can reverse this epidemic. Report
My husband works for one of the companies mentioned & I know they have been really focused on providing healthier snack options by changing their ingredients. Report
To ETHELMERZ: Ethel, people in higher tax brackets use food to comfort them also so. We all go overboard with food because of other issues. If you think that an alcoholic abuses alcohol because that is all they can afford, than you know very little about that disease. The wealthy also succumb to that as well. I feel sorry for you if you go throughout your life envying those who have more than you. You are listening too much to your politicians using this to drive a wedge. If you are not happy with your economic situation, do something about it rather than whine.
Being close friends with teachers, I know how strapped they are for time and cash. They don't have time to teach basics because of all the other stuff they must teach. We've allowed our schools to become the dumping ground for what should be done by parents and health care workers such as pediatricians, etc.
I pulled my kids from school, so they could be a part of all facetss of life, from shopping for food, which included label reading, to cooking it.
What will marketers do? Label high fructose corn syrup as "corn sugar" and tell kids that their brands are best?
We focus too much on wanting a quick fix. Teachers should be able to teach kids to read and do math. Perhaps some of the reading and math could involve learning to read labels and calculate nutritional value.
But above all, please don't let the government be in charge! They hold us too captive already! Report
I am a teacher and need to respond to some of the comments about schools that are going on here. First of all, in our state (IL), PE is required for all students. In elementary schools, it has to be provided daily--our district, like many has a certified PE teacher who teaches the classes every other day and the classroom teacher is responsible for the other days. We have a daily recess that is outdoors as long as the weather is cooperative. As for other recesses, like I remember from my school days--those are fewer and fewer as teachers and schools are struggling to meet the requirements of all of the testing and NCLB. More and more things are being tossed at us to do, but nothing is ever taken away--which has put us all on overload. We teach and do so many things that used to be done in other arenas (like home and the church)--that it is difficult to fit everything in. We have curriculums on bullying, sex education, character, aggression replacement, mediation and most schools serve breakfast, give medications and medical care, and care for kids after school hours. I really think that at some point some of these jobs need to go elsewhere. I understand that the schools are the place where you can reach the most kids, but somebody needs to stop and think about what the job of the school actually is supposed to be. Maybe someone else could tackle some of these other jobs--I am relieved to see other organizations helping out with this because I am so aware that we don't have unlimited time to do "it all." Report
We are obsessed with food because most of us poor slobs can't afford the other luxuries to comfort us the way people of higher incomes can, food is still affordable, and legal, sort of. Ask an alcoholic why he is obsessed with drinking? Report
I say why not let the marketing industry with all of it's power to focus on healthy options. Right now they are doing a fantastic job of swaying young minds to make such unhealthy choices. Report
the idea sounds great, but not by companies. i think it would be better off run by parents and a couple of dietitians. but on the other hand, it could just lead other kids to go the other direction. you don't want to go overboard with kids getting healthy, and yu don't want to let anything slide either. its a tricky thing to work with, I think. Report
I also agree with Amaranthus. While the concept sounds great, I have mixed feelings about marketing and business being what runs the initiative to help people live healthier lifestyles. Marketing makes a career (literally) out of telling people what to do and how to do it. Though I certainly can't argue with some of the effects -- particularly emphasizing health education for grade-school children -- I can't help but wonder if this will actually be a step in the right direction, or a well-intentioned marketing mess that banks on the fact that Americans are overweight and don't know what to do about it.

If you look at it that way, it feels like this initiative is taking advantage of us. Report
I agree with AMARANTHUS. There must be changes to help our children learn and eat healthier but we should be able to make the option to choose. Report
This will not be a private enterprise it will governentment mandate much as the anti-smoking lobby got their agenda into society. Can't smoke in public (but keep buying those cigarerttes we get lots of taxes from them), can't eat my krispycremes either. instead of going to the "bad" part of town to get meth (it's an appetite depressant so it will be available by Rx to lose weight) you slink down hide your face and get a black market doughnut yes sacrcastic, and said with a smile but ... Report
Eating packaged foods has gotten us in this situation. So now we are to have new and improved packaged foods? I would rather see education and free choice so that we can choose what we know is best. The additives etc are added to maintain flavor in the package. My children prefer to take cold lunch to school because school lunches have become packaged/fried foods---seldom is anything cooked from scratch. "Insanity:doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results."---Albert Einstein Report
I'm excited about the new program, but I agree with others about Pepsi, Coke and the chip people. Nutrition learning starts at home and if the parents want to keep on eating junk food and go to fast food places, what are their children going to do? I'll wait and see if any good comes out of this Report
This stuff scares me. I would not want these large corporations telling my kids what is healthy to eat and what is not. No thanks. Report
Since the corporations listed--Pepsi, Sara Lee, Kraft, Gen. Mills, etc.--are responsible for creating so-called foods that are packed with non-nutritive material, refined and processed past utility, the whole thing seems to smell just a little. The idea is great, but I don't trust the initiators at ALL. Report
There is nothing new under the sun! These items are already out there so this is just for information purposes only. We as parents need to step up, teach our children and set the example, which we should be doing anyway to make wize choices. Look at us! I've seen children and teens purchase $50 and $75 pair of jeans! We take them to these fast food places and now that these same compaines are trying to offer healthy choices, we should allow them. It starts with us! Report
If we let Campbell's, General Mills, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, and Sara Lee define what's healthy, we're in trouble before we even start. "Healthier alternatives" can mean almost anything. Using sugar instead of HFCS could make something healthier. Still doesn't mean it's healthy. Really it's just less "unhealthy." Report
Brand marketing has been going on in schools for many years. Let's help our children understand marketing and its implications, then accept the largesse of these companies. Report
I will take a "wait & see" attitude towards the food processing companies. I do not trust them. They have so many ways of trying to get around things that it will be a revelation if they do come up with some healthier alternatives. I think the biggest problem with food is their advertising, especially on television and now on the internet. I realize that the internet cannot be controlled as easily as tv ads but I feel that would be a very important place to start. We want children to pick healthy alternatives to snacks and yet we bombard them with ads for everything from sugar coated cereals to chocolate bars. We have to clean up our act alot before we can start expecting children to change their ways. They do, after all, take their cues from us! Report
is this going to isolate the over weight children even more? is this going to give the other school children more ammo? Is this going to focus on the over weight child even more? I believe weight control and healthy eating starts at home. maybe educate the parents, isn't that where it starts.... in our home we talk about healthy choices and unhealthy choices all the time - I have made it into a fun game, when the children want a snack depending on what they have eaten for the day will determine what choices they get pick from - if they need more dairy then yougurt or cheese stick, more fruit a banana or grapes.... Report
Well. I guess I have a "wait & see" attitude. I don't like the idea of schools pushing certain brand items. However, that is also were we get some of our money. Our school is down to bare bones in terms of funding. We lost another staff member this past year. There is NO money for professional development. We can make a couple thousand dollars in two weeks selling candy bars, which is spent on the students for field trips. Good for us? No. Necessary in these times? Pretty much. On the positive side, our cafeteria has cut the number of deep fried foods in half, went to all whole wheat bread products and salads are offered every day, along with juice & yogurt. We still have PE and open gym at lunch (middle school does not have "recess"). We do not sell pop to students - they have water & juice machines. We do the best we can. And as a parent, I agree with some of the other comments - we have to step up and do our part to raise healthy children. If you let your child come home, eat junk & play video games all night, what can the teacher do about that? Report
Totally agreeing with NORTHWOODSMOM8--the first rule of GOOD leadership is, "Compel, not coerce". People have to WANT to follow you because you've presented compelling arguments for a course of action. But if you mandate and coerce them into change you're just a bully, and it doesn't last.

I also have trouble believning a cadre of corporations have the world in their concerns more than their own Bottom Line of Financial Gains. Report
I will have to think about this some more; but my FIRST reaction to the goal, is that we can't mandate people's eating habits. They must have a personal moment of 'aha' and then willingly choose better habits. I heard that there was a goal to remove desserts from menus by a certain date, and I think this is insane! We were given freedom to choose, and this is what we should be allowed to do. Yes, it's a crisis to have our society be overweight! But I don't think mandating is going to change a thing! I have a personal dilemma with my college son who is diabetic and is making terrible food choices, but there is NOTHING I can do but hope and pray that he will wake up and make better choices. I can't force him. I can't berate him. I can't guilt him into it. I must be an example and hope that he'll get it. In the same way, I really don't see how we can mandate others without them willingly coming on board. Report
Totally agreed with CNIANE. Grand if it *does* lead to real changes, but I think I'll trust myself and my own research on what's healthy for me rather than depend on companies with a financial motive. Report
I think this is wonderful. My Physical Therapist made me watch the DVD "Food Inc." and I wanted to go throw out everything in my refrigerator after that. I am currently reading "Get a Real Food Life" and rethinking the value vs. cost of organics. I am also happy to report that our employer Not only has fitness classes and wellness group, but pays us $100 if we complete 15 of the offered items. It's so easy, I completed 20 last year! Report
At this point I am skeptical that anything with a CEO and many companies on board is in our best interest. It's in the best interests of the companies to join. Unfortunately people get into things for their own best interests and not those of the collective whole in the business world. Report
I am not convinced. Aren't some of these the same companies that thought vending machines full of soda and other junk food located in schools were a good idea? Report
I have a friend who is part of a national group called Better School Food calling on congress to pass some laws to ensure more nutritious school food (more organic fruit and veggies, meat and less processed foods). I'm thinking that these companies will be looking out for themselves more than our kids. Report
I don't think that the brand marketing is bad, as long as the foods they are promoting really are healthy. Brands get a bad rep sometimes, when really they are very important in a world when you don't have time to try and test everything out 8-different ways before committing. I bet most of you are reading this on a brand-name computer, and you bought that computer because you knew that it was a good brand. I think it would actually be a good thinkif a couple of good, healthy food brands became well-known amongst school-aged children and their parents, so that making good choices would be easier. Report
Where are the nutritionists? Where are the educators? Where are the physicians?

Follow the money trail !!!! Report
Apart from all the comes down to..being more responsible and commited
to knowing what..your your body...Go for more healthy home
cooked meals...prepared with love..since we eat with the eye first...Always use....
good produce!! Report
Our children are getting obese and it's because the schools have gone down the current path without really understanding what they are doing to our children and we, as parents, have failed to really see it until recently. I am against a group of people from manufactures, etc., unless there are nutritionists involved throughout. The manufacturers and food processors are going to try to prove that their food is nutritious, that's why you have food labels that are misleading and geared to ridiculous serving sizes so they can make their product look more nutritious. Do you think they are going to stop doing that at every level? They are in business to make money and if high calory food is what kids like best, they aren't going to change easily or readily. They are going to fight for every inch they can. I think we need to be more active in what our kids eat and if that means packing their lunches and making them look better than the stuff on the school lunch tray, then we need to do that. What ever it takes to get our children in good shape again. Report
it is hard to watch what you eat and make sure that it doesnt contain something we should not eat . . would the school allow outside interfence with their regular food servier . Report
Companies trying to promote their products under the guise of "healthy" should be looked at warily. Granted, there are good companies out there, but as most of the commenters stated, they are looking to keep their names out there.
Shouldn't we, as parents, be responsible for keeping our kids healthy? If the schools don't serve healthy foods, then maybe we should think about packing their lunches. I know it's not as easy as it sounds, but we can't just sit back and let others control what should be our responsibility. Report
How hard is it to teach healthy eating without brands? A carrot pulled out of the ground doesn't have a brand. Report
I wrote the original blog spot at I've seen many of these corporate-sponsored machines used to promote corporate agendas. Discovery Education's purpose (stated on its web site) is brand marketing. That is the real purpose of this endeavour -- to get brand identities into the public schools. That is to sell Pepsi, Coke, etc., etc. to school kids. Report
As soon as I read the following I became skeptical:

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation is a CEO-led organization made up of over "100 retailers, food and beverage manufacturers, restaurants, sporting goods and insurance companies, trade associations and non-governmental organizations (NGO's) and professional sports organizations."

It's all about the money. It'd be nice if they were doing it for a truly altruistic purpose.

P.S. We have recess and P.E. where I teach. I like teaching about healthy eating and fitness in the classroom. I send government supplied flyers on the food pyramid and the importanct of eating right and exercising. I make a list of healthier snack choices and most students bring something from the list. Others still bring the fat and sodium filled chips or the sugar filled treats like Twinkies. I am trying to help teach the parents as well as the students. Not everyone is as informed as we are on SP. Report
As with anything, don't believe everything you read... Report
We're between a rock and a hard place on this one - so many people cry 'no more taxes' and there are so many economic problems, at least here in Calif, that the schools have little to no money to spend on anything new, including health initiatives like this - so the only way it's going to get done is thru corporate sponsorship.

The other side of this issue concerns me very much - as a marketing professor, I know that children are especially impressionable and exposing them to 'brands' is very fertile marketing ground - so corporate sponsorship should be curtailed.

Yet, I'd like to see a lot more health education and agree that obesity in our kids is another huge concern, now and especially in the future.

So what is the answer? I don't know - it seems we are constantly having to choose between options that each have major drawbacks and who among us is educated or smart enough to adequately evaluate all the possibilities, anticipate unintended consequences, etc.

So my conclusion is that unless we are all willing to have [and pay for] a governmental program to perform this function or willing to stick our heads in the sand and let things continue as they have, I guess we're going to have to accept the corporate sponsorship - what other option is actually better? I mean, really better? I've found it's a lot easier to criticize the ideas of others than to come up with a realistic 'perfect' plan myself, haha! Report
I agree with Faboomama! Right on! I was surprised to find out my grandkids are not going outside for recess, and what ever happened to the President's Physical Fitness program from back in the '60s? We were so into being outside and playing, we worked off anything we ate. America (including moi!) has become fat because we sit all the time. In the '70s and '80s, there was a big boom to work out, job, play tennis, or something. I remember a tv commercial where a young, beautiful and sexy gal was walking in the park drinking her soda, and you begin to think, she doesn't even need to drink diet soda, she's perfect! Then her 3 little kids run up to her and hug her. People were inspired to do something though. For whatever reason, people don't seem to let themselves get inspired any more. What is it going to take? As mentioned before, I don't want the government telling me what to eat, or what to teach my kids. I don't think I wans to take my inspiration from government people. I prefer to do that from people who are setting good examples. Shall we try harder to be a good example of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.....or being healthy, eating right, and living the way we were meant to live!? Report
I think any "initiative" put forth by food corporations is simply more marketing in disguise. These companies don't care about consumers' heath. They exist to make money in any way they can. If they think the healthy food bandwagon is going to make their profits higher, they will market themselves that way. It doesn't mean their food is any healthier. Report
How does Pepsi think it's healthy in any way? Or Sara Lee for that matter? Schools have become Nazi zones........Zero tolerance for too many things. Let kids be kids. Parents take and keep responsibility for your children or someone will take it from you. Report
Educate the parents and let the schools concentrate on reading, writing and arithmatic. Yes, some nutritional info in health but stop with the "rules" and yell at the parents. This is OUR job. So parents, DO IT! Report
Why don't we as parents stop blaming these companies and put the blame on ourselves? We have let schools cut out PE programs, recess is shorter, and the food WE buy for our children unhealthy. Instead of letting the TV babysit our kids, make them go outside! Teach them to cook! Make them pick a sport to play! Grow a garden! We have gotten so lazy and wonder why our children are getting obese and sick? Give me a break! When I was a kid we had soda machines in our school but we were so active it didn't matter. We had PE, track and field day, and just weren't allowed to sit on our butts doing nothing. It's time Americans faced up to the fact that it is a personal choice to be healthy and have a healthy family. Blaiming everyone else will solve nothing. Report
I'm leery for so many reasons. Report
Unfortunately, this looks like just another marketing scheme. I really support teaching kids about healthy alternatives and what whole food is and how to make wise choices, but branding health does not encourage informed decisions. There should be more focus on getting healthy meals into schools and less on getting propaganda into classrooms. Report
I'm skeptical with the corporate involvement as many of you are. I also don't believe in "healthy" processed foods - I personally try to stick to fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and other minimal foods. BUT remember that these food companies own many (sometimes healthier) brands that you may not even realize they own. Pepsi-Frito Lay (parent company) isn't just soda and chips - for example they own Aquafina bottled water, as well as many other brands that they don't openly brand as "Pepsi".

I do believe that a corporate initiative will probably have more momentum behind them than a government/non-profit initiative. They have real motivation to succeed, as they have lots of $$ on the line, and shareholders and employees to answer to. Is it possible they could take it too far and promote processed foods as "healthy" foods? Sure, but let's at least see how it plays out. In the end, WE are responsible for the healthy lifestyle of ourselves and our families. Report
I see this as a form of health haloing. It sort of zones out whole, minimally processed foods, which obviously those brands don't stand to profit from. Report
I'm afraid I'll have to add to the negative reactions. While it's certainly worthwhile to focus on wellness in the schools, corporate sponsors may have their own bottom line considered before the health of school children. I just read "In Defense of Food," in which the author recommends eating food with only one ingredient, such as "peach" or "whole oat grain" and avoiding ANY foods that tout their health benefits. Too often the product started as a whole food, then was processed with some nutritional additives put back in without awareness of any micro-nutrients which are now missing. It's my belief we have to educate the parents, who are then responsible for what their children eat. Report
My only concern is promoting specific brands as "healthy" opposed to teaching children about nutrition. I know that as someone who is "new" to the clean eating concept I've been appauled and shocked as to what is contained in items that I've grown up thinking are healthy. Items that are marked low fat, low calorie, light, or other "healthy" labels should still be looked at because there are so many ways to make them still unhealthy (adding sodium levels).

No one ever told me to read labels all these years of "dieting" instead I believed that things labeled on the market were better for me. Report
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