Speaking to about 70 people at the Sherrill Center last night, Shellie Pfohl urged audience members to view improving the health of the nation and ending childhood obesity as everyone’s responsibility.
“If it looks insurmountable, it’s not,” she said in closing last night at the panel discussion, which doubled as the kickoff event for UNCA’s Well-A-Bration. The annual event, sponsored by the N.C. Center for Health and Wellness, celebrates individual and community wellness initiatives and opportunities.
Pfohl (pronounced “full”), who has served as executive director of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition since 2010, joined a panel of four local community activists to discuss the future of health on both an individual and national level. Pfohl says the health of the individual and the community are inseparable, and the health of all, consequently, will require the help of all.
“The steps can be small,” said Buncombe County Health Director Gibbie Harris, who was one of the panelists.
However, the panel wasn’t comprised of only seasoned health experts. It also included Asheville High School senior Tyshaun Johnson, who is an active member of Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!), a nonprofit organization that empowers youth, in partnership with adults, to create community change.
“Before I became dedicated to living a healthy life for myself,” Johnson told listeners, “I knew what it was like to be the kid who couldn’t do it.” For Johnson, motivation to find solutions to childhood obesity comes from his personal experience of transformation and empowerment — along with a desire to help others achieve that feeling.
Johnson shared that hearing a message from a peer can have a huge impact, and reminded us that youth are a “resource to each other for positive inspiration just as easily as negative.”
Pfohl reinforced this message, describing how often she has spoken with students who tell her they came to school that day only because an older student, a young Americorps worker at the school, or other mentor, was there for them.
“The solutions are simple, it just takes all of us,” said Erin Braasch, Project Director for WNC Healthy Kids. Other panelists agreed that whether people are coming to the table with a health care, economic, or profit-driven perspective, all have a place (and a vital role) in the conversation. For UNCA senior and panelist Laura Gardner, her decision to major in health and wellness comes from what she says can help the future of health promotion in North Carolina by making, “the healthy choice the easy choice.”
Although Pfohl has had the “gig in DC,” as she calls it, for the past few years, the Iowa native considered her visit to North Carolina a coming home. As a co-Founder and former executive director of Be Active North Carolina, Pfohl spoke from experience when she said it will take, “No less than a cultural shift,” to “re-infuse the love of movement.”
In response, Johnson said, “It’s better to start young with everything.”
This mentality, Pfohl said, should carry over into being advocates for health.
“We’ve got to take this to the school board, to the elected officials, to the decision-makers — elected or not. If it’s the decision-makers at your church serving fruits and veggies instead of Krispy Kreme donuts after service, that’s making a difference,” she said.
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Katie Souris is a freelance writer living in Asheville, N.C.