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The Health Rebellion
From the obesity epidemic to smoking, it often appears that corporate America and the country's citizenry are pitted against one another when it comes to public health issues. According to Cheryl Healton, founding president and CEO of the Legacy Foundation, right now in America "corporate interests and the country's public health are at odds."
Healton spoke to a small group of attendees present at an Aspen Ideas Festival private dinner discussion on the topic of innovative strategies to combat public health crises.
One example she lent is the radical campaign begun in 2000 by the Legacy Foundation to curb smoking rates among America's youth. Called "truth," it was the only national anti-smoking campaign not directed by the tobacco industry.
The campaign was particularly unusual, said Healton, in that its message included health facts about smoking, but its effectiveness came from something different: It aimed to start a rebellion among youth. "The campaign took the concept that young people are rebellious by nature, and we gave them something to rebel against. The tobacco industry, that was trying to get them hooked for their business model," she said.
Could this tactic be replicated in tackling America's other pressing health issues? Or as actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith asked guests at the dinner: "Can you create rebellion in communities?"
Jason Baron is a portfolio manager at U.S. Trust who focuses on socially innovative investment strategies by identifying U.S. corporations with strong track records of stewardship, philanthropy and performance. Baron described the motivations of many corporations as being "challenging" and "scary" but he encouraged the group of leaders to consider the ways in which dialogue can be elevated in the country so that the question becomes: what's best for all of us?
The obstacle to policy change in Billy Parish's view is political contributions to America's legislative leaders. Parish is the founder and president of Mosaic, an entrepreneurial company focused on creating and investing in clean energy sources, and he spoke of his experience in that sector.
"The biggest barrier to us making progress on the climate is the political contributions from the fossil fuel industry to politicians who are meant to be tackling [the problem]," said Parish. "Every single issue we're talking about, the barrier is political contributions ... We need to fix our democracy, it's fundamentally broken."
Baron sought to find a role for other economic actors to elevate the discussion. "It's not about vilifying industry," he said. "This is a consumer driven society. Seventy percent of GDP is consumer spending. Every time you make a purchase you are informing a company about what they are making and selling to you and how they should be making it."
At the close of dinner, Healton reiterated the theme of creating public health rebellions in America. "We may need our own Arab Spring around issues in this nation," she said, "where we need to take back control of our policy."