Guest commentary: To make our nation healthier, invest in what works

Kelly Close and Ben Pallant
Guest Commentary

There are only 18 counties in the United States with adult obesity rates below 20 percent. Seventeen of them are in Colorado, and Colorado has the lowest rate of diabetes of any state in the nation.

So why aren’t we spending more time focusing on what, exactly, makes states like Colorado relatively successful?

As a country, we focus on where we are falling short in health outcomes, and that’s understandable. Bad news commands the headlines. But that obscures a less obvious trend. Communities across the nation are developing successful programs to combat obesity, prediabetes, and Type 2 diabetes. Our challenge is to identify these programs, learn from them, and invest in them so they can make a bigger impact.

That was the premise of our “Anthology of Bright Spots in Type 2 Diabetes and Prediabetes,” which we launched at Spotlight Health in Aspen. The report describes the places, initiatives and groups that are already driving improvements in one of the biggest public health challenges of our day. These range from the relatively small — such as Faithful Families Eating Smart and Moving More, a program in North Carolina that pairs religious leaders with nutrition educators in local houses of worship — to the very big — like Brighter Bites, which has distributed almost 17 million pounds of produce through underserved schools in some of the nation’s biggest cities.

“The Anthology of Bright Spots” also stands as an antidote to the belief that obesity, prediabetes and diabetes are intractable health problems. We don’t believe that’s true. The challenge is finding support and funding to expand programs that are already working.

More and more cities are voting to tax sugar-sweetened beverages to decrease sugar consumption and to raise revenue for health and education programs. The FDA, starting last month, now requires food vendors with at least 20 locations to list calories on their menus. Large insurance companies like Aetna talk openly about “investing in their customers” to keep them healthy and deter chronic conditions. To be sure, these kinds of initiatives still face resistance in some quarters, throughout all sectors, but awareness is growing that improved health not only lengthens lives and reduces medical costs — it also improves productivity and engagement at work.

Our challenge is to build on this momentum and to spread the word that these successful programs, or Bright Spots, should be our lodestars for future investment and innovation.

Coloradans already understand the benefits of public support for health and wellness. Let the movement grow.

Kelly Close is the founder and chair and Ben Pallant is a senior associate at The diaTribe Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of people with diabetes and prediabetes and advocating for action. They are authors of “The Anthology of Bright Spots in Type 2 Diabetes and Prediabetes.”