Tuesday, May 02, 2006

National Governor's Association Launches Healthy America Initiative

The National Governor's Association yesterday launched its Healthy America initiative, coordinated efforts in the various states to "promote health living and active lifestyles."

According to a National Governor's Association (NGA) press release: "'A key component of Healthy America is raising national awareness of the urgent need for Americans of all ages to live healthier, more active lives,' said Huckabee [governor of Arkansas], who is in New York to promote the message that Healthy America week is the beginning of a long-term commitment to a healthy, active lifestyle. 'This week gives governors the opportunity to work together to raise the national profile of a critical issue.'"

As part of the initiative: "NGA encourages individuals to participate in the "Healthy America" survey. In addition to providing information about their current lifestyles, the survey includes a pledge, in which participants can designate the specific action they plan to take, such as adopting a healthier diet or becoming more active."

The National Governor's Association also announced a series of grants available to states to promote healthy lifestyles. Under the "NGA Center Healthy States Grant Program, states can apply for challenge grants to help them develop and implement worksite and/or community wellness programs related to Healthy America."

The Rest of the Story

There's just one problem with all of this.

The program is being brought to you by corporations that are promoting the precise problems that the initiative purports to try to solve. Among the list of top corporate sponsors of the NGA program are Altria, PepsiCo, Inc., and Anheuser-Busch.

Altria's Philip Morris subsidiary produces products that are responsible for the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing thousands of Americans each year. Anheuser-Busch produces Budweiser beers, notorious for the appeal of its advertising to youths. PepsiCo produces soft drinks that are contributors to the obesity epidemic that is plaguing the nation.

Who do the nation's governors think they are fooling?

Any sincere effort to improve the health of the population would not have as its critical sponsors the very corporations that are largely responsible for the very health problems that one seeks to address. This goes against everything that we teach in public health. It frames the problem in exactly the wrong way and it lets the corporations off the hook for a problem to which they clearly contribute.

How could you possibly have Philip Morris as the sponsor of an initiative to encourage the nation's citizens to quit smoking? How could you possibly have Anheuser-Busch as the sponsor of an intiative to encourage youths not to drink alcohol? And how could possibly have PepsiCo as the sponsor of an effort to discourage kids from drinking soda in order to decrease their caloric intake and prevent obesity?

This is about as absurd a public health initiative as I've ever heard of (second only, perhaps, to the American Legacy Foundation's campaign to reduce youth exposure to smoking in movies; Time Warner - the chief culprit - is a Legacy corporate partner).

The rest of the story suggests that the supposed interest of the National Governor's Association in promoting the public's health is hardly sincere. It is really little more than a political show brought to you by the corporations that are most responsible for the very health problems that we as a nation are facing.

It is little more than a public relations opportunity for these corporations to increase their goodwill among Americans and thus turn attention away from the role of corporate behavior in promoting ill health among Americans. At the same time, it is a great political opportunity for the governors to make it appear that they are truly concerned about tackling the nation's public health problems.

The rest of the story is that the Healthy America initiative is little more than a political and corporate public relations show masquerading as a public health intervention.

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