04/11/2012 02:26 pm ET Updated Jun 11, 2012

The Obesity Epidemic: Voters Get It. Will Our State Leaders Listen?

The nonpartisan and independent field poll released its annual survey on childhood obesity this week, and it shows once again that Californians understand the severity of the obesity epidemic facing our state.

Californians are speaking with a clear and unified voice: they want action now.

According to the survey, California voters are nearly unanimous in their support for policies that promote healthy eating and physical activity. For example:

  • 97 percent say that schools should do more to promote physical activity among children,
  • 96 percent support serving healthier foods and beverages in school,
  • 79 percent support building new parks, sidewalks, and bike lanes so families can get more exercise in their daily lives, and
  • 73 percent agree that smart investments in prevention save money over the long run by preventing costly chronic disease.

Californians believe that everyone has a role to play in improving the health of our schools and neighborhoods. Nearly three in four voters believe that obesity prevention efforts should involve the entire community, not just individual children and their families. This view is shared by voters in all parts of our state and from members of every political party. In an era of regional divides and ideological strife, preventing obesity and obesity-related disease may be one of the few issues we can agree on.

At The Endowment, we've embraced the idea that prevention is critical to promoting health. No one can do it alone. School administrators, business leaders, health care providers, and others must work together in our schools and in our neighborhoods to create a healthier California. That's the core idea behind the Health Happens Here campaign, and it's why we've joined with partners across the state such as State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to improve the health of California's children. But more leaders need to step up to the plate and work to improve the health of our communities.

Health researchers have been telling us for decades that the best way to improve health is to invest in prevention. Yet, in challenging economic times like these, prevention programs are frequently among the first considered for cuts. This poll shows that Californians explicitly reject that approach -- they support smart investments in prevention despite our economic slowdown. And they're right. Good investments are smart, even in challenging times. I urge our state's leaders to heed Californians' wisdom and prioritize prevention, starting in our state's schools and neighborhoods.