Our industry has a longstanding commitment to being part of the solution to reducing obesity. Across the nation, our efforts to provide consumers with more choices, smaller portions and fewer calories have been amplified through the Balance Calories Initiative.
Here in Ohio, one way our members are doing this is through our support of the First Ladies Health Initiative in Cincinnati. Through this event, Cincinnati First Lady Dena Cranley and her co-chair First Lady Barbara Lynch of New Jerusalem Baptist Church brought free health screenings to 22 Cincinnati churches.
Where do we come in? Cincinnati is home to hundreds of beverage industry jobs. It was our pleasure, as employers and residents, to support this event. Our Cincinnati area bottlers donated refreshing low and no calorie beverages, volunteer time, and raffle giveaways to help make the screening day a success.
Over 1,000 (and still counting) adults chose to screen for everything from vision screening to hypertension. While health fairs are not uncommon, what distinguishes this effort is the unique setting, connection and follow- up. And I was humbled to be a small part of this volunteer family supporting a true community-based program.
“The First Ladies of the churches and I are very excited about our 2nd Annual Family Health Day,” First Lady Cranley said. “The health disparities that exist between those who live in our wealthiest and hardest hit neighborhoods are stark. Our hopes are that we connect and educate our community to help them take charge of their health.”
Comfortable Settings, Trusted Advisors
The setting capitalizes on churches as community builders and places where kinship transcends blood or marriage relationships. Organizers of the Health Day recognize that parishioners look to their pastor and often the pastor’s wife or “first lady” for guidance in many facets of their lives.
This recognition is the force behind bringing health information where this kinship already exists and people feel comfortable. It is also provides a solution to health care access challenges in inner city neighborhoods. And I saw how a fun, relaxed atmosphere helped people overcome their reluctance to get certain tests or removed the “too busy” excuse for not getting screened.
Kinship & Connection
The true connections I saw last Sunday happened in small groups of girlfriends encouraging each other to get their sugar tested, in families with young children learning about nutritious snacks and exercise, and men agreeing that they could make time to get their blood pressure checked. Local church first ladies also screened and set positive examples for their congregations to follow. The kinship of family, friends and parishioners lifted everyone, and gave them opportunity and time to focus on their health.
And that kinship extended warmly to volunteers like me. I was there to promote our industry’s Balance Calories initiative—a collective member company effort to lower beverage calories 20 percent per capita by 2025–and to give away low and no calorie drinks. Everyone loves free stuff but the connections I felt went beyond that. People welcomed information about sweeteners, calorie labels, portion sizes and product variety.
Seeking Support for Balance
Mom to mom, many women told me they appreciate more choices, more information and support from companies like Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper to make their own decisions. And like over 70 percent of Americans recently polled by FoodMinds, a food and nutrition consulting company, these moms prefer education over restrictive policies as they manage their families’ diets.
Beginning to Drive Real Change
So adding to the true grassroots setting and built-in connections at the churches, the Cincinnati Health Day ended with a beginning. The baseline testing for parishioners is only a start. Organizers have arranged follow up from partners like the Cincinnati Health Department for folks who need help with hypertension, diabetes or other conditions revealed in the free screenings.
My hope is that the people I met in Cincinnati will also carry forward new tools to help them moderate the calories they get from beverages, while making choices that work best for them and their families. Working together on initiatives like the Cincinnati First Ladies Health Day will drive real change and make a difference in people’s lives.