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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Health Resources and Services Administration

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HRSA Speech

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Health Resources and Services Administration

HRSA Press Office: (301) 443-3376
 


Remarks to Partners in the Healthy Weight Collaborative
by HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield

September 24, 2012

I’m very happy to help kick off the second virtual learning session of Phase Two of the Healthy Weight Collaborative.

By using new approaches that link primary care, public health, and community resources – and by applying proven quality-improvement techniques – the Collaborative is bringing fresh energy and fresh ideas to the effort to prevent and treat obesity in America.  

Your efforts are part of a broad push by the Obama Administration to bring greater focus to promoting health and preventing disease activities and to directly engage the American people in these issues.

It’s often overlooked in press reports, but the Affordable Care Act substantially expands investments in primary and preventive care programs.  The law places a strong emphasis on preventing illness, keeping chronic conditions under control, and keeping people healthy.

I’m a nurse, but it doesn’t take a nurse to figure out that a lot of the health problems presented by desperately ill patients are preventable, or could be mitigated, through earlier investments in disease prevention activities like screenings, health and wellness promotion, and patient education.

A nation that has healthier eating habits and gets more exercise will, as a result, make fewer visits to clinicians and hospitals and spend less on health care.

And that’s why the lawmakers who wrote and passed the ACA provided funds for anti-obesity activities like the Healthy Weight Collaborative.

In addition to helping individuals and communities stay or become healthier, your actions also help us bend down the curve on health care expenses.

And over the longer term, your efforts are also important because you will have helped people gain an added measure of control over their own lives by providing the tools they need to maintain a healthy weight.

All of you know, of course, that First Lady Michelle Obama has made fighting obesity one of her signature issues.  The First Lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign involves nurses, community leaders, teachers, doctors and parents in a nationwide effort to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation.

Let’s Move! focuses on providing healthier food in schools, helping our kids become more physically active, and making healthy, affordable food more available in every part of our country.

As part of that effort, the First Lady pushed for greater access to healthy food in distressed and minority communities. So I’m glad to see that you’ve included in the agenda a breakout session on “Community Solutions for Healthy Food:  Community Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Working with Restaurants.”  I’m sure she’d be happy to see that, too.

So even as we push forward on the Administration’s prevention agenda, we know that we can only strengthen America’s health by partnering with you and capitalizing on the assets present in local communities.  So, for example, I know that nearly all teams have community health centers as leads or participants.  That’s great, because health centers play key roles in controlling patients’ chronic diseases and in providing coordinated care to patients.  

Health center staff work hard to help patients lead healthier lives, and they have long experience in dealing with obesity and overweight.  In fact, last year health centers added two new clinical performance measures to track their progress in treating overweight patients.
You also should know that the Affordable Care Act included $200 million to expand school-based health centers, which allow children – and very importantly, disadvantaged children – to get care before major health problems like obesity take root.  If they’re not already, these school-based health centers would make wonderful partners in your local efforts.
As part of our support for your efforts, HRSA’s Office of Regional Operations has designated staff as points of contact who actively participate in the Collaborative and support teams and project staff in their regions.  HRSA’s Regional Administrators are our representatives in the regions and they serve as a first point of contact for you.  They can expedite your inquiries, connect you to appropriate HRSA staff members and programs, and assist as needed with activities in your communities.  Certainly rely on them – they can put you in touch with the entire range of HRSA grantees in your area.

Well, let me close by discussing what we at HRSA would like to see come out of this meeting.

First, we want you to take advantage of the opportunities for learning and exchange of ideas presented over the next few days to return home with a better framework for addressing obesity and overweight in your own communities.

You may get feedback from other teams that confirms your own notion that you’re on the right track, or you may hear ideas from presenters or other teams that you want to adapt to your own efforts.  Whichever road gets you there, take it.

We’re also interested in learning about how you link primary care, public health and community resources to “move the needle” on obesity and overweight prevention efforts and initiatives.  We see these linkages as a potentially important advance that’s often missing in other obesity initiatives.  So we’re anxious to hear about the impacts you’ve seen, or expect to see, from this more “integrated” approach.

You have a full agenda before you, and a great opportunity to make an important impact on limiting – and reversing – the unfortunate epidemic of obesity and overweight in America.

From all of us at HRSA, we’re pleased to be your partners, and we thank you for everything you’re doing on this incredibly important agenda.