Building a Culture of Health: Our First Health & Wellness Delegation Trip to Philadelphia

June 12, 2014

When health & wellness leaders from 18 organizations get together in the same room to discuss solving our national wellness challenge, exciting moments happen. Solving urban food insecurity, increasing access to fresh produce in food deserts, and creating a “culture of health” were just some of the topics discussed and debated among our delegates.

On June 2 and 3, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Corporate Citizenship Center convened representatives from corporations,  non-profits, and the public sector in Philadelphia, PA to discuss how nutrition and wellness are critical to making our cities better off – economically and socially. We organized this trip because we know that the solutions to America’s staggering obesity challenge are best suited for the community level. We see that change happens when the necessary stakeholders (government, business, non-profits, educators, families, and more) collaborate to create programs, which make sense for the community’s culture, demographics, and infrastructure. Thus, we brought delegates from all over the country to one location to have a discussion about how we can support communities to solve these challenges. We also gained a fuller understanding of the work that Philadelphia has already done to stop and reduce obesity.

The kick-off to the delegation was strong. GSK announced the GSK IMPACT Grant for Philadelphia in partnership with the Philadelphia Foundation. This $5M grant over three years seeks to encourage and foster healthy living among youth in Philadelphia. Check out the application here.  This announcement occurred in GSK’s brand new double LEED Platinum certified building. The building’s beautiful light with a staircase as its centerpiece reminded all delegates that the space where we live and work is vital to our health.

After the announcement, representatives including our corporate supporters like UnitedHealth Group, DSM, and Campbell’s Soup Company joined to dig deeper into the challenges communities face. We discussed collective impact methodology as a means to develop programming. One delegate mentioned that disadvantaged communities respond to hope not fear – sparking the question, how do public health actors capitalize on hope to bring about change? The conversation often discussed the role of business in community wellness. After some discussion, the group reached consensus in that the great majority of businesses can have a role and a seat at the table. Lastly, delegates wanted to discuss how preventing obesity can be made more “sexy”. There is significant need to market healthy living as an attractive way to live life.

The Chamber of Commerce Foundation kicked off the second day at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. Drs. Schwarz and Mallya started by sharing that 40% of the causes for premature death are due to behavioral patterns. They designed the Get Healthy Philly program to, “change the context - to make individuals’ default decisions healthier”. With this multi-faceted goal in mind, the program set out to change access to healthy food, improve the built environment with safer walking and biking, and use media to influence behavior positively. Philadelphia has seen significant results with a 5% reduction in obesity among Philadelphia schoolchildren 5 to 18 years old from 2006/2007 to 2009/2010. To learn more check out their 2013 annual report.

We finished the day on a school bus – visiting the recently completed Dornsife Center at Drexel University, The Food Trust’s healthy corner stores, and The Food Trust’s work bringing a full-scale grocery store to an underserved area that previously didn’t have one.

We believe that the best way to learn is from seeing the challenges and solutions through experiential learning. This delegation trip, like our others, brought together leaders in this space to carry out the difficult conversations, while observing how change is happening all around us. We at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation work every day to guide this conversation so that our future generations are healthier than ever. If you want more information about the delegation trip or the health and wellness program, contact Kara Valikai.