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Commentary: Partners in a healthier future

Monday, October 20, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Amy Seasholtz
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Monday, October 20, 2014

By Steven M. Altschuler and Daniel J. Hilferty

Planning for the future is a strategic imperative at successful organizations throughout the world. This means today's leaders must spend time preparing tomorrow's leaders to manage a successful tomorrow.

As the chief executive officers at two of our nation's most prominent health-care companies, Independence Blue Cross and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, we have a duty to make sure our organizations, and the thousands of employees who are credited with their excellence, thrive well beyond our tenures.

We must also approach child health and wellness this same way. In other words, today's kids are tomorrow's leaders - whether in the workplace, community, or home. We must help children thrive by giving them the education and tools they need to succeed - including every opportunity possible to live a healthy lifestyle.

It's a tall order, but not impossible.

Much of what we accomplish here in our region can be attributed to the partnerships that have been created to help meet some of our most pressing challenges. From infrastructure and economic development to homelessness and violence prevention, large and small organizations work together to have a positive impact on our community. Similarly, when it comes to children, we will succeed if we all pull together.

It is widely known that childhood obesity rates in America have tripled over the last 30 years. Under the leadership of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, the Healthy Futures initiative provides just such a collaborative approach to reversing this childhood obesity epidemic in our community. As we know, in Southeastern Pennsylvania, more than 42 percent of children aged 6 to 12 are obese or overweight. In Philadelphia, that figure increases to nearly 50 percent. As overweight children grow to adulthood, they face higher risks of disease, including diabetes, stroke, cancer, and heart disease, and even premature death.

To tackle childhood obesity here, Healthy Futures has brought together nine partners to implement three key components: eat right, get fit, and stay well. The Vetri Foundation for Children, Greener Partners, and Villanova University promote better eating habits. The Philadelphia Union, Philadelphia Freedoms, Philadelphia 76ers, and Fit Essentials promote exercise. And CHOP and Inner Link help kids stay well by conducting screenings and offering wellness education.

By leveraging the expertise of this diverse group of partners, Healthy Futures offers children and their families a number of tools - empowering them to make good choices about their health. The program now serves 25 area elementary schools, with 1,000 students. When you add families and other community members who are touched by this work, that number is much higher.

Our work together on Healthy Futures just began a year ago, and we know there will be much to learn and do to ensure the success of this three-year initiative. Childhood obesity is a national priority, from the White House, through first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" initiative, to countless grassroots programs across the nation that work hard to foster access to healthy foods and more.

To create more awareness and community involvement to help inspire a healthier future, the Independence Blue Cross Foundation and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are hosting a national conference on child wellness today in Philadelphia: ""Healthy Futures: A Recipe for Childhood Wellness."

We will discuss the latest national, state, and local research in childhood wellness and obesity prevention, including preliminary Healthy Future outcomes. This forum will also provide insight into the efficacy of a number of interventions, so that we can ultimately replicate the findings from research being done on childhood obesity into evidence-based practices or programs that are known to work across the United States.

The conference is also a tribute to our commitment to collaboration. As leaders in our community and country, we recognize that the future of health care depends on the ability of insurers, physicians, and hospitals to tackle tough problems, establish common goals, and work hand-in-hand to implement solutions.

To win our battle against childhood obesity, we need these types of powerful partnerships among innovative organizations. It's the least we owe our children to ensure a better future for them and the communities they will someday lead.


Steven M. Altschuler is CEO of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Daniel J. Hilferty is president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross.