It’s time for Virginia business leaders to lead on public health
Two-thirds of Virginians are overweight or obese.
Good news: We’re well into the New Year in the Old Dominion State, and Virginians are getting healthier. According to a recent United Health Foundation report, Virginia now ranks as the 15th-healthiest state in America — up from 20th last year.
Dig into the research, and there is plenty to celebrate. For example, Virginia is known for its high immunization coverage among children and a relatively low number of people reporting “frequent physical distress.”
But there is still more work to do. Virginians are indeed healthier, but we are still not among the national leaders. On many counts, our state lags behind Massachusetts, Utah, Vermont and others. For example, two-thirds of Virginians qualify as overweight or obese. Over 30% (22nd in the United States) are dealing with obesity that leaves them vulnerable to a wide range of negative health outcomes—from heart disease and stroke to cancer.
So how do we address public health issues like obesity? Of course, individual responsibility will continue to play a pivotal role. By taking the necessary steps, including making better food choices and exercising regularly, we can all improve our health outcomes.
Fortunately, many Americans have already committed to self-improvement. After all, the number of Americans on a specific diet has doubled in recent years.
But this is also an opportunity for the business community to take the lead, making it easier for those seeking self-improvement. As more and more Americans embrace “better for you” options, it becomes imperative for industry leaders to meet public demand. Namely, the conveniences services industry—including vending operators—is perfectly set up to provide those nutritious choices.
You may not know it, but there are nearly four million vending machines in the United States, serving more than 40 million Americans on a daily basis. Over the next three years, with the support of the Partnership for a Healthier America and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, vending operators across the country plan to boost the percentage of healthier options to one-third of all offerings—a 40% increase from current levels. By all measures, this is a significant step in the right direction.
The bottom line is this: We have more work to do on public health. But together we can get the job done. When consumers are supported — truly supported — by the business community that serves them, they can take the fight to obesity and other health issues.
From employee empowerment to sustainability, business leaders already lead in a variety of ways. Let’s add public health to that list.
Scott Halloran is CEO of Trolley House Refreshments in Richmond.