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Tom Frieden, MD, MPH Headshot

The Power of the Private Sector to Save Lives

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Good news travels fast. This week's announcement by CVS Caremark that they will stop selling tobacco products by October 1 was front-page news and a topic of conversation everywhere. My first thought? What a great example of a company voluntarily doing the right thing.

Many companies make business decisions every day with the goal of safeguarding their employee and customer health. Here are just a few examples of companies taking actions that help their customers and communities live longer, healthier lives:

  • Jason's Deli, with more than 200 restaurant locations nationwide, voluntarily removed trans fats from its food long before doing so was a requirement anywhere. Back in 2000, the company's R&D team worked with vendors to find, develop, and supply healthier products, not just for itself but for the entire restaurant industry. Forty-seven ingredients were converted over 5 years, and by 2005, the company's menu was transfat-free. That commitment opens up options for businesses everywhere, including mom-and-pop shops that rely on what's available in the marketplace.
  • As part of Walmart's partnership with the First Lady's Let's Move program, the company's healthier food initiative has focused on making it easier for its customers to eat healthier diets. Walmart has committed to eliminating trans fats and reducing salt and added sugars in both its private and national food brands, and to make fruits and vegetables more affordable
  • ConAgra Foods voluntarily lowered the sodium in its packaged foods by 20 percent, and continues to develop products with less sodium. Kraft Foods lowered sodium by 10 percent in its foods, and Heinz lowered sodium in its signature ketchup by 15 percent.
  • Companies including American Express and Safeway are committed to promoting healthy workplaces by encouraging their employees and their families to support and maintain healthy lifestyles. American Express provides health assessments, onsite medical clinics, lifestyle and health coaching, and disease management programs. Safeway's voluntary Healthy Measures program offers employees discounts on health insurance premiums based on their tobacco usage and maintaining healthy weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
  • Merck created the Mectizan program, run by the Carter Center, to donate life- and sight-saving medicines that benefit hundreds of millions of people around the world each year.
  • An innovative CDC Foundation partnership with Cargill and the American School Health Association awarded grants of 1,000 to10,000 to 47 U.S. elementary schools to improve their physical activity and nutrition policies and programs. Schools used the money to build walking trails, purchase sports and recreation equipment, increase healthy food choices in lunchrooms and classrooms, and educate students and faculty about healthy eating.
  • General Electric's philanthropic arm, the GE Foundation, along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, and Proteus On-Demand partnered with the CDC Foundation to pay for two new buildings to support the ongoing and important work of the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population after the devastating 2010 earthquake destroyed the agency's headquarters. Providing infrastructure to support public health is a key element in the effort to support global health security and keep the world safe from infectious disease threats.

As I talk with our nation's business leaders, I hear more and more examples of corporations voluntarily making the choice to do good for their employees, their customers, and their communities.

Nothing lifts my spirits more than finding others who share our goal -- a healthier and safer America, and a healthier and safer world.