As I embark upon my first full year as executive director of Voices for Healthy Kids, I envision a country where kids make healthy choices because those choices are everywhere.
Picture this: A teen is offered a sugary drink by a friend, but he turns it down, giving his friend the side-eye, just the way my kids do if they’re offered cigarettes. His friends join him in reaching for water instead of soda because that’s what they prefer.
I see restaurants serving kids healthy meals full of fruits and vegetables…families taking evening strolls together…and then those same children, the next day, walking to school safely. At school, those kids drink clean water throughout the day because they have access water fountains and water bottle filling stations and have a healthy lunch because that’s what’s served. After school, they play outside because they think being active is awesome and because their cities choose to invest in green spaces, public parks and rec centers.
I see them feeling good, healthy and alive.
I picture kids of all races, ethnicities, and from all socio-economic levels, rural kids and urban kids and every place in between—I see ALL children.
These are not far-fetched dreams. As adults, we are responsible for making them our kids’ reality and normalizing healthy behaviors.
Heading into 2020, Voices for Healthy Kids will do our part to create conditions for children to grow up healthy and able to reach their full potential. We know we can do that only if we keep equity top of mind in everything we do.
Heading into 2020, Voices for Healthy Kids will do our part to create conditions for children to grow up healthy and able to reach their full potential.
This will be challenging. It will be hard. It will push some of us to set aside everything we ever thought we knew and work differently.
We will work harder to play a larger, more vocal role in advocating for equity for black, African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Alaskan Native children, and children in families with low income.
Equity comes about by making life better for all people. At Voices for Healthy Kids, we build partnerships and coalitions, collect data and conduct research, and give visibility to solutions that are building equitable communities. All these activities create pressure for positive change on the systems and policies that are responsible for the health of our country’s children and families.
We will be intentional about providing access to technical assistance, tools, and expertise to those whose communities and children need us most. Not only will we make sure these communities have access to our experts, but we will actively seek their input and leadership. We will not do for, but do with.
That’s how you build shared power. That’s how you innovate and agitate systems. We will create space to listen to community voices and test their policy intervention ideas. They may not be fully vetted by science, but they may help evolve science.
We need to be bold enough to take thoughtful risks. Who knows what we might learn?
You will also see us take on tough policy issues that are high risk and high reward, such as sugary beverage excise taxes that give communities a voice in deciding their own investment priorities. You’ll see us defend against legislative threats to health equity, which is why we support campaigns to fight off and repeal preemption, so that local communities can decide what’s right for them.
We won’t settle. If we must choose between option A and option B, we will ask: Which option offers the best opportunity to advance the health of the children we have prioritized? And if neither option offers much promise, we will choose option C.
We aren’t in this alone. A decade from now, our country will be on a path to better health and equity, in part because of what we’re doing and the people with whom we work.
We need to believe in each other.
Nothing lights my fire like the moment when a person recognizes that others believe in her—a mom who realizes her voice in the city council, or an elected official who realizes she can help make a community more equitable, or a teenager who realizes she can say no to an unhealthy choice.
That person becomes unstoppable. We become unstoppable.
I hope our paths cross during the year because we’re challenging, listening to, collaborating with each other—and believing in each other. Together we can create healthy, ever-present choices for all kids.
Lori Fresina is the Executive Director and vice president of Voices for Healthy Kids, American Heart Association. Her expertise includes campaign planning, community mobilization, multi-stakeholder collaboration, grassroots development and effectively communicating health messages to public officials. Read more about Lori here.