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Mindbody Podcast

Wellness Revolutionaries | Building a Healthier America with Nancy Roman


In this episode, host Blake Beltram interviews Nancy Roman, President and CEO of the Partnership for a Healthier America. Together, they discuss Nancy’s lifetime of work in wellness, her connection to former First Lady Michelle Obama, and the cultural shift that needs to take place for both consumers and corporations, alike.


  • Introduction [00:57
  • Interview with Nancy Roman [06:20
  • The wellness crisis in America [12:38]
  • The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) [17:05 
  • A lifetime of work in wellness [25:16
  • Scaling the PHA [31:40
  • The haves and have nots of wellness [37:59
  • Workplace wellness [41:37
  • Personal journeys to health [45:48
  • A cultural revolution [49:54
  • Closing statements [56:21

Referenced Resources:

Guest Details:

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[00:00:02] (Blake) While many in the wellness movement demonize companies like McDonalds, the Wellness Revolutionary I talked to today says real change will come by working with, and not against, corporate America.

[00:00:14] (Nancy) Not every company wants to do exactly what we wish they would but our model is not to preach and lecture and to be so sure about what companies should do. But to understand the company, dive deeply on that company, and find a way that they can make incremental progress because it's not always going to be a light switch flipping.

[00:00:57] (Blake) Welcome to Wellness Revolutionaries. This is the podcast that shines a light on the leaders of the Wellness Revolution.

[00:01:04] I'm talking about the inspiring women and men, focused on building a culture of wellness in America. I'm Blake Beltram, MINDBODY co-founder and Evangelist and your host, tour guide, and companion on this journey toward a healthier, happier us.

[00:01:21] I am so thrilled about my guest on this episode. When it comes to Wellness Revolutionaries, few human beings are more influential than today's guest.

[00:01:32] Nancy Roman was recently named one of the most powerful women in Washington by Washingtonian Magazine and currently she's using that power,  fighting to put an end to childhood obesity.

Did you know that childhood obesity rates have tripled? Yes, I said tripled, since the 1970s. By the time our kids are 2 years-old, 14 percent of them are obese. By the time they are six years old, 18 percent of them are obese and by the time they are 12 years-old, over 20 percent of them, one in five, are not chubby, not pudgy, but considered obese by the CDC. And by the time we hit middle age, over 40 percent of us are obese—and these numbers are rising. You'll hear Nancy talk about the predictions for the trajectory that we're on right now. It's not a pretty picture. There's just really no other way to look at it. And we've got to do something. We need a cultural revolution here. And my guest today is focused on exactly this.

[00:02:47] Let me tell you a little bit about one of the most powerful women in Washington. Nancy Roman first came to Washington D.C. as a congressional press secretary. She has worked as a journalist covering politics. She's been vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington D.C. She served as president of a strategic consulting firm. She worked on the leadership team of the United Nations World Food Program. This is the world's largest humanitarian agency and it feeds 100 million people in 75 countries. She was also the president and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank, which annually provides food nutrition resources for over a half a million people. She was doing that until she was tapped by former First Lady Michelle Obama to serve as the president and CEO of the Partnership for a Healthier America.

[00:03:42] The PHA’s focus is ending childhood obesity. It is a nonprofit. It was inspired by then First Lady Michelle Obama who remains very active today as honorary chair. And the PHA by design is bipartisan and it boasts vice chairs for both major parties: Republican Bill Frist and Democrat Cory Booker.

So you may not have thought of it from this angle but, trust me, and you're about to hear this from Nancy: the influence of the PHA on the Wellness Revolution is huge and its potential influence to help us move from a culture of illness and a culture of unhealthiness to a culture of wellness in America is massive.

[00:04:26] We talk about the seven dimensions of wellness on this program. This fits pretty squarely into the physical dimension and nutrition as a subset of the physical dimension. But you'll hear us get a little bit into some of the other dimensions through this conversation as well.

One of the things that I love about Nancy that fascinates me about her is she really believes in a big tent approach to the Wellness Revolution, that it should include everyone even and maybe even especially those companies that some people may think are part of the problem. She sees corporate America as being an essential part of the solution. She also really believes that this is a bipartisan issue, that the health and wellness of our children should not be politicized. This is not about red and blue or Democrat or Republican, that this is something that everyone should be onboard with.

And another thing I love about Nancy is where she comes from. This is not a woman who was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. This is someone who came from humble beginnings who comes from a family of immigrants as you'll hear her talk about. And so I think she has a genuine compassion for people that live in challenging situations that don't have the access to food and resources that all of us are privileged to have. So she's just this phenomenal combination of heart and brains and experience. She's just truly a lovely human being and the impact that she's having on the world is truly profound. And it was really a privilege to spend some time with her. And with that here's my conversation with Nancy Roman. [00:06:08][304.5]

[00:06:20] (Blake) Hi Nancy.

(Nancy) Hi.

(Blake) It's such a pleasure to have you here.

(Nancy) Well, it's wonderful to be here.

(Blake) So to give a little bit of context of where we are, we’re in San Diego right now at the MINDBODY BOLD Conference.

(Nancy) With the beautiful sun shining outside.

(Blake) Isn't it phenomenal? I love it here.

(Nancy) Yeah, it’s truly stunning.

(Blake) It is.

(Nancy) It's been a while since I've been in San Diego, but beautiful.

(Blake) And you're in from the East Coast?

(Nancy) Yes, Washington D.C.

[00:06:45] (Blake) Well, one of the reasons why I am like a kid on Christmas is because our keynote tomorrow is the former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama.

(Nancy) Yes.

(Blake) I will be opening for her. So I’m absolutely thrilled about that. And I think that you had possibly something to do with that and some connection with Michelle Obama. Can you tell us a little bit about that? [00:07:06][45.8]

[00:07:06] (Nancy) Sure. Well our organization PHA is really an outgrowth of Michelle Obama's work. Her “Let's Move!” and really the Wellness Revolution that she's spawned. Our goal is that all children, especially those disproportionately affected, grow up to be adults who are free from obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. That's our goal. And that's a lofty, big goal. And she's still closely associated with the organization. And I'll be meeting with her in a couple of weeks. But she was the inspiration for it and is now one of our co-founders. Now, we are bipartisan and we have Senator Bill Frist, a Republican, because we really believe, boy, when it comes to health and wellness it is not about one party or another. It's about all 7 billion people on the earth. But, boy, she has been a special motivating force for our organization and for the movement more broadly. [00:08:10][64.1]

[00:08:11] (Blake) And can you tell us a little bit about your connection to Michelle Obama?

[00:08:15] (Nancy) Well, you know, she founded our organization and I'd met her several times before I took that job as CEO PHA. But when we sat down and met, one of the things she said was, “You know, Nancy, when I got started in all this wellness, it wasn't a political stunt. It's really because it's deeply and passionately and profoundly what I believe in.” And I think she's evidence that, and you'll see that, you know continue to be evidenced in the things she chooses to do and to say in her personal life. I mean she takes spinning classes and she is fit and she is well. But the fact that she's remained committed to PHA after the White House,when I think any sane person wants to really step back a bit and get back to their normal life is a real evidence of where her passion lies.

[00:09:07] (Blake) It truly is something that she's passionate about and committed to and she walks the talk.

(Nancy) Absolutely.

(Blake) And that authenticity shows through, doesn't it? I think it's one of the special things about Michelle Obama is some people get up there and say things but when she speaks you really feel that it's coming from the depths of her heart and soul.

[00:09:25] (Nancy) Absolutely. And I think it's going to be very interesting when her book comes out. You'll get a taste of that authenticity because it's really her story.

[00:09:33] (Blake) I heard her say that she's very candid that she was maybe even a little nervous about how candid and open she was in the book so

(Nancy) Yeah, but I think that, as you say, we'll break to her advantage because people do like authenticity.

(Blake) It's the age we live in isn't it think any of us standing up there acting like we have it all together just doesn't work. People see through that. The truth is we're all bumping around in this life trying to figure it out.

(Nancy) Absolutely.

(Blake) And we're succeeding some and we're failing some and the more we can be open and support each other. I've found that when I'm open and transparent about my own personal challenge, nine times out of ten, people start opening up to me and I start finding out about their personal challenges.

[00:10:12] (Nancy) Absolutely. It's one of the things of leadership is if you can be candid about mistakes you've made and balls that you've dropped and things that you've planned that haven't worked out, it really helps create a climate of risk taking and employees become less fearful to move forward and make mistakes as you inevitably do when you do anything.

I often tell people that I hire that if you're not making any mistakes you're really not pushing hard enough you know because it's really pretty impossible not to make them and I think to be candid in creating a freedom to fail and freedom to be human is really an important part of leadership. [00:10:54][31.8]

[00:10:55] (Blake) Is it a challenge for you though? It is a double edge sword being open and transparent as a leader and Partnership for a Healthier America. I would imagine that if you're too open and you're too vulnerable, is there some concern that people will see you as weak or ineffective and that they then maybe lose a little bit of respect for you? [00:11:13][17.8]

[00:11:13] (Nancy) I don't worry about that. I don't think vulnerability conveys weakness. I do think that this move for transparency can have a problematic side and that sometimes just knowing everything isn't really what's best for the organization not because there is something hidden and secret in the closet but just because it's not really where the point of emphasis needs to be.

So sometimes I do think the pendulum swings a little bit too far in transparency but not because vulnerability seems weak. [00:11:45][31.6]

[00:11:46] (Blake) This is a fascinating topic to me. Do you think there is a gender divide here when it comes to male leaders and female leaders? Is there a difference in men being willing to be open and vulnerable and transparent? Is there a gender difference in leadership?

[00:12:00] (Nancy) Well, you know, I always try to be careful, though it can be very tempting, not to divide things fully along gender lines. So let me say as a caveat, any generalities you draw, there are many exceptions to that generality. But one of the biggest things I see is that men will tend to be more confident and sometimes that confidence comes with less vulnerability and women, not necessarily just leaders, but in the professional workplace sometimes are not as confident. And that's something I've spoken about. I once gave a speech on that topic to female CEOs and it was requested again and again to give that talk because it really resonates when you talk to women about finding their confidence and finding their voice. [00:12:47][47.1]

[00:12:48] (Blake) Do you feel that we're facing a wellness crisis in America? Can you talk a little bit about the state that we're in? [00:12:54][6.0]

[00:12:55] (Nancy) Unfortunately, I'm really sorry to say that despite a lot of really powerful and important work. You know, it's clear we have a lot of work to do. We have 100 million people in this country with pre diabetes. Thirty percent of adults are obese and by 2050 it could be half if trends continue. Double digits of two year-olds are obese and it’s not really just the obesity, it's all the chronic conditions that we know are associated: diabetes, heart disease, even cancer is associated with obesity.

You know we really have to do something. We need a cultural revolution and that's beginning to happen. And I think MINDBODY is a big part of that. But we've got to change the way we move the way we eat, the way we think, the way we incorporate movement into our daily lives, the way we take care of ourselves. It's really critical.

[00:13:49] (Blake) I'm curious how you think we got here.

(Nancy) I believe we got here based on a couple of things. One, our taste buds aggravated by marketing. But let's take it back. In America, most of us are immigrants and something I don't talk about a lot is that I came from a very low income family. And, you know, my father was from a very poor family in West Virginia.

Most of this nation can trace itself back to poverty. Immigrants coming in with nothing, no money, no language skills, no nothing. They fled the land they were in for a better opportunity. When you have nothing, a big part of what you're striving for is to get something and to get enough. And I think back to my grandmother,  which is only just two generations ago, and she dropped out of high school, she didn't read very well, she raised six children on her own, she was a widow. But she was all about getting enough food; and the measure of success was big portions.

And I think in an immigrant nation, that's really in many ways unique to our nation, You know, getting enough, and we see that now in modern culture you know some of it's starting to be reversed. But supersizing everything more, portions here are three times what they are in Europe. You can eat til you're full and have more than half to take home lay on top of that. The first many decades were about getting enough and if you could invite people over and serve large portions that might be a meal one of two meals a day and a large portion was a gift. So what is once your strength becomes your weakness. So on the food side I think it's our very impoverished roots that sort of gave rise to wanting more and more and more.

[00:15:36] Physical activity side, you know the answer—it's technology, the automobile, the suburbs, and, you know, so much inactivity.

So the things that are pretty dominant in American culture—a big landmass, lots of driving far away places, can't walk to things like you can in many societies—compounded with, a sort of, many generations back, desire to get so much brought us there. And then we have these taste buds that crave salt and fat and sugar. So I think there are many contributing factors to how we got here. They're hard to unwind. [00:16:13][69.5]

[00:16:14] (Blake) So in some ways, we were suffering from our own successes, from our own advancements in technology and our and our success economically.

And if you look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, survival is first and if we go back to our grandparents and great grandparents it was really about surviving. Similar to your family, my great grandfather emigrated from Italy before the turn of the century so that he could work 12 hours a day in the coal mines in Oklahoma for six dollars a day. And he was happy to do that. You know, he considered himself successful and that was just to be able to provide for his family.

So, to trace it back to that yeah they were just trying to survive. When you contrast that with the millennial generation that you look at now, I think they came in with the survival was sewn up, survival was taken care of, and they sort of leapfrogged to the thriving part of that pyramid.

[00:17:05] So can you talk a little bit about the mission of PHA and how you see PHA fitting into what you just talked about? [00:17:13][59.0]

[00:17:14] (Nancy) You know our goal is that all children, especially those disproportionately affected, grow up to be adult who are free from obesity heart disease diabetes and the other chronic conditions. Our mission is to leverage the power of private sector to improve food, increase physical activity, and well-being.

[00:17:35] So that's our mission and I zero in on leverage the power of the private sector. I often joke that I'm a raging capitalist. You know, I used to run a Wall Street company. This is a capitalist country. And one of the ironies I find is that when we want to solve big global social problems, we so often run to government, we run to NGOs. But here you have this like massive private sector that has so much power, so much wealth, so much creativity. So our mission is to go to those private sector players and really accelerate their business model or make incremental change. [00:18:16][40.6]

[00:18:16] It depends. If it's a company like MINDBODY; we're all about your goal to double the number of Americans involved in fitness by 2027. But it might be someone else like a restaurant that's serving soda and with them our goal is going to be to get the soda off the kids menu. Or, you know, so there's both sides which is working to improve where you have deeply entrenched companies that may have contributed to the problem to make improvements. And when you have companies who were all over the right thing then were about scaling and leveraging their business model. [00:18:50][33.8]

[00:18:51] (Blake) How many companies are partnered? [00:18:52][1.2]

[00:18:53] (Nancy) Well, we've got well more than 200 and many dozens now that we're currently in conversation with.

(Blake) And can you name a few of the bigger players?

(Nancy) Well sure, I'm happy to. We've worked with Dannon, Nike, Dick's Sporting Goods, PepsiCo; we’re showcasing and leveraging McDonald's now. We're working with the National Restaurant Association. We're in conversations with Amazon and many more consumer goods companies. You know, we're talking with Nestle, with Coca-Cola, with Honest Tea.

Seth Goldman is our innovator of the year because of powerful work he's done developing a juice for kids meals that's 35 calories, 42 percent juice, the rest water. You don't realize how game changing that is. You put that drink—it's called “Appley Ever After”—in the McDonald's Happy Meal and trillions of calories and sugar are coming out of the marketplace. But the bigger thing that's happening there is palate change. You know you're beginning to shift the American palate. [00:19:57][64.5]

[00:19:57] (Blake) How difficult is it to get some of these companies on board with the mission and vision of the PHA? [00:20:02][4.8]

[00:20:03] (Nancy) Well, every company is different of course. It depends where that company is in their own strategic planning. These days, the wind at our back we have is that there's hardly a company on the earth that isn't thinking about wellness. So if they have less healthy products, they're trying to improve and diversify their product line and if they have really good products, they're trying to scale that. So there's almost no food related company that is open to us and the physical activity side, of course, is critical as well.

[00:20:38] So, you know, not every company wants to do exactly what we wish they would at the current time. But our model is not to preach and lecture and to be so sure about what companies should do. But to understand the company, dive deeply on that company, and then find a way that they can make incremental progress. You know, because it's not always going to be a light switch flipping.

[00:21:03] (Blake) Sure. So I can hear critics saying. “Wait a minute, some of these companies sound like the list of adversaries to a healthy culture.” Some people would probably, I would imagine, accuse some of those corporations as being ones that have helped contribute to childhood obesity and so on. So what's your response to working with companies that some people might see as the adversaries to a healthy culture?

[00:21:26] (Nancy) Well, first of all, I don't think those companies would disagree with the fact that they've contributed to the problem.

(Blake) Really?

(Nancy) Yeah, but to take them off the map of possible players is a big, big, big mistake because McDonald’s is serving millions of Happy Meals on a daily basis. And so if you get high and mighty and self-righteous and decide that a company that's taken a course that, you know, in retrospect might not have been the best course, you know, you're really losing an opportunity for big change. When they decided to take the soda off the kids menu 15 percent of their customers quit getting soda for their children. That’s game-changing.

[00:22:13] (Blake) To get an idea of the potential impact Nancy talks about when it comes to companies like McDonald's, I did a little research into the “Appley Ever After” juice change in Happy Meals and did a little quick math. “Appley Ever After” has 57 percent less sugar than even the lemonade option that was previously available. So that's 11 fewer grams of sugar per Happy Meal. So with over a billion Happy Meals being sold each year, that's a potential reduction of 428 million pounds. Four hundred and 28 million pounds of sugar not going into children's bodies. That's definitely what I would call influencing its scale.

[00:23:01] (Nancy) I've never been one who likes to vilify the private sector. I don't think it's interesting. Companies evolved to become who they were because they were meeting consumer demand. This country was full of consumers that wanted fast food, they wanted fast food cheap, and they wanted fast food that taste good and salt and fat taste good, I'm sorry to say. And so a lot of companies make consumer demand. What happened since then, we learned a lot and what I often say is, “Wow, we now have the burden of knowledge.”

[00:23:31] You know when I was growing up and my family took me to McDonald's for a once-in-a-year treat, it was so thrilling. We sat in the back seat, so excited, with our hamburger and our fries. We didn't know that that saturated fat and so forth wasn't as good. Now we do know and McDonald's knows too, and they're making changes. I think companies that are willing to make incremental change should be applauded. Now I know that's controversial but I stand firmly by that position because if you wall off every company that isn't exactly where they need to be and decide to work with only the perfect companies, you'll be touching a much slimmer sliver of society than you will if you open the door and work with all companies.

[00:24:16] (Blake) So this isn't about dividing this is no drawing lines. This is about bringing everyone into the tent.

(Nancy) Absolutely, 100 percent.

(Blake) And you mentioned earlier that the political perspective is bipartisan as well.

(Nancy) Yes, absolutely.

(Blake) This is, this should not ever be looked at as a partisan issue.

[00:24:30] (Nancy) If there's one issue that shouldn't be partisan, it's the health of our children and the well-being of our populace. Who in the world would argue that we shouldn't be physically well, that we shouldn't and be physically fit, that we shouldn't be healthy?

[00:24:44] (Blake) It's tough to be an opponent of being healthy, isn't it?

[00:24:47] (Nancy) Yeah, I'm actually hosting a dinner at my home in a couple of nights with the leaders from both parties and from government and the corporate sector. And we're going to be talking about the future of food in America. And, you know, partisan politics need not come up.

[00:25:02] (Blake) And I think so many of us are really tired of the politics, we're tired of the tone in Washington. So this is exciting on another level. Just the thought of getting Democrats and Republicans in the same room together on the same page. And are you able to do that? And can you tell us about some of the politicians that are involved in? Do you see it breaking down party lines?

[00:25:21] (Nancy) No, you know, I mean for one thing we tried not to approach it from the party perspective of course. You know, our honorary chairs are Michelle Obama and Cory Booker and Bill Frist.

[00:25:32] There are many Republicans who are working with us as well at our summit. We featured the Food as Medicine Caucus in the House led by Jim McGovern, which is seven or eight members equally split between R's and D’s. To be perfectly candid, so far there have been more Democrats that rise to this issue. But I think that will change. Many of the leaders in the corporate space on the food side are Republicans and they're really recognizing that this is the wave of the future. So we really try to be a safe space for people of all political views because we're trying to accelerate a Wellness Revolution and we'll take R's and D's and Independents.

[00:26:16] Absolutely. In terms of being a Wellness Revolutionary, I think if anyone deserves that badge of honor it would be you. Can you tell us a little bit about not just PHA, but some of the other things that you've been involved in?

[00:26:29] Sure. Well, you know, maybe I'll start on the personal side because, you know, what I realize is growing up I always loved to cook because my father grew up in that poor family. They grew their own food. We grew up learning to garden and grow our own food. And I have a garden now so I've always been really passionate about food and movement and health. You know, I swim, I do yoga. I love the outdoors, hiking.

But on the professional side, it was really somewhat serendipitous. I was running the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington D.C. when one of my former bosses and mentors had been appointed to lead the United Nations World Food Program. And she called me up from Sudan and she said, “Nancy, I need a business woman with a heart. I have one senior job if you want it, it's yours.” And at the time, I was very happy in my work, as I've really been blessed to be, and it would have required moving my whole family to Rome, which isn't exactly a hardship posting, but it is when you have a 14-year-old and 11-year-old who are deeply entrenched with their friends. But, boy, was that an experience because we were providing food and really working hard on nutrition in 75 countries globally; feeding 100 million people.

[00:27:52] And it really opened my eyes to all the many challenges of undernutrition and the powerful connection between food and wellness and health. And, you know, from there when my son was ready to go to college and we were really ready to come back to the States, I was offered a job as head of the Capital Area Food Bank which is one of the largest food banks on the East Coast, distributing 48 million pounds of food every year in very difficult circumstances.

[00:28:27] And, you know, there I really saw in a developed world nation the face of hunger and undernutrition you know which is very different.

[00:28:36] (Blake) So 48 million pounds of food and the food was, where were you sourcing the food?

(Nancy) The fruits and vegetables we were purchasing because, frankly, people don't donate those, very few, because they're so perishable. But the shelf stable goods usually were donated by retailers.

(Blake) And then how are you distributing?

(Nancy) With trucks. We had 500 partner agencies ranging from D.C. Central Kitchen to Martha's Table to church pantries and synagogues. So we were sort of like the supply hub that distributed to hundreds of regional food providers.

[00:29:09] (Blake) I think I heard a story about you and sheet cake.

[00:29:13] (Nancy) It's actually a good story and that is one day relatively early on in my tenure. I was walking through our warehouse and if you can imagine our warehouse it's like a huge cavernous Costco-like facility, very large warehouse, and it looked like the incredible exploding warehouse of sheet cake. And I said to one of my guys, “Where is all this sheet cake coming from?”

[00:29:37] And he said, “Well, you know, Nancy you said only a small percentage of any distribution could be a treat.” I was like, “Yeah.” And then I realized, oh this stuff is backing up because I've made a policy decision that is restricting how much of this bad for you stuff can go out. Now we can see it.

(Blake) You're stockpiling sheet cake

(Nancy) Yeah, we’re stockpiling sheet cake because we're not distributing it with the frequency.

(Blake) Who was donating all the sheet cake?

(Nancy) That was the first question I asked and it turned out to be one of our many grocers and I wrote right to him—Bob Gleason of Shoppers Food Warehouse—I wrote him and I said, “I don't know you and you don't know me. And you've been a great partner over these years. But we've got a problem and I need to talk.” And he was fabulous. He invited us right out. We sat down and he said, “Nancy, I don't want to be giving you food that you don't want. And I also don't want to be overproducing sheet cake.” And he sent his ops guy out and we worked on it over months and found a way to sort out the sheet cake and other excess bakery goods. And we then went to Giant Foods and others and Giant modeled for us retailers for wellness. And that was the beginning of a process of really shifting the inventory to not allow soda, not allow candy, not allow these bakery goods.

[00:31:02] But what it did was the retailers who were donors really worked with us to transform the way they gave and they were instrumental to our success. That's just one more great example of leveraging the private sector to effect big change. I couldn't have hired enough people to do that work manually and we could never afford it or even had the buy in to throw that stuff away. But when the private sector embraced the problem, the private sector began to solve the problem, and that's really a model that I think we need to scale.

(Blake) And it sounds like you are scaling PHA with absolutely 200 plus.

[00:31:40] (Nancy) Well now we had, this year, it was so exciting. We had 16 food banks who opted into agreeing to get the bad stuff out of their inventory get fruits and vegetables into their inventory and use our fruits and vegetables campaign. We hope to bring in another dozen or two this year. And, you know, forty eight million people nationwide get their food from a food bank. So when you're really trying to transform the marketplace of food, which we are, you really want to work across the spectrum.

[00:32:10] (Blake) It must be challenging for PHA, with all of these companies from all different industries and all different stripes and sizes, for the PHA to come up with a concerted way to help guide those companies to make changes and to guide transformation. I would imagine that a challenge for the PHA.

[00:32:27] (Nancy) It is. I must say, we have a fabulous staff and one of the things we're good about is learning from what we've done in the past. You know, we have talented dietitians and really we try to learn and template what we do so that companies can learn from other companies. That is really part of being able to scale, is you try things and you figure out what works. We're doing a pilot now with Cumberland Farms retailers on healthy check-out because when we work with convenience stores to get healthier foods into the store and better placement of healthy foods, one of the areas where we've always gotten pushed back is on unhealthy check-out and we thought we really need to get data because our goal is not for any of our partners to lose money. Our goal is for our partners to make more money providing healthier options that consumers want and demand but sometimes we have to help solve a piece of that puzzle before we can really be in a position to scale.

[00:33:26] (Blake) And that really takes a cultural shift, doesn't it? I mean you're not just making healthier choices available doesn't mean that people will choose those healthy things. It really has to do with a lot of the other dimensions of wellness that we talked about some of this breaks down socioeconomic lines

(Nancy) 100 percent.

(Blake) So it's not just about putting healthier options in there.

[00:33:44] (Nancy) No, it's not. And that's why, I'm so glad you mentioned that, because we really have to shift the culture. You're up against so much, you know, not only are we up against our own crazy taste buds that make us want to eat caramel corn with salt. But we're up against this marketing, junk food is out marketed 500 to one the healthy-for-you foods.

So part of what we're really paying attention to is how do we shift the culture. And we have this FNV campaign, which is promoting fruits and vegetables and we have all sorts of celebrities coming into the campaign that people respond to across demographics, but especially young, to really help make eating fruits and vegetables cool.

(Blake) According to the PHA website, it's FNV campaign (Fruits and Vegetables campaign) recruits actors, athletes, and not your mom to help brand fruits and vegetables as cool. The website boasts over 50 celebrities currently on Team FNV including Cam Newton, Jessica Alba, Colin Kaepernick, Kristen Bell, Nick Jonas, Randy Jackson, Cindy Crawford, Regina Hall, Madison Beer, and NBA superstar Steph Curry. You can even purchase your own team FNV T-shirt on the PHA site. The tee simply reads, “Avocado and Broccoli and Apple and Kale.” Hey, I ordered a medium in gray.

[00:35:20] (Nancy) We've had enough like nutrition classes and finger wagging. It's got to be part of a culture where it's exciting. But again, the businesses help shape that culture too. It's not just the movies stars and sports heroes. It's the businesses, what do they offer? What do they put their marketing dollars toward?  What do they make cool?

[00:35:40] (Blake) We talked about this in our corporate wellness summit that we had here yesterday at BOLD, which you took part in a little bit. Do you think corporate wellness is an opportunity for the PHA?

[00:35:50] (Nancy) Absolutely. You know we're trying to get our arms around it and we're going to begin by showcasing some of the best stuff that's happening at our summit April 1st and 2nd in Chicago. To be perfectly honest, we've been struggling with the best way to get at it because so many people and companies and organizations have tried so much with so little palpable success and we don't just want to be one more group doing one more thing.

[00:36:20] But under our strategic plan, our third strategic objective is to showcase and highlight scalable, replicable work that's improving food and increasing physical activity and well-being. So under that strategic objective I'm thinking, you know, let's showcase what's out there let's engage in conversation. I was really motivated by the way MINDBODY is thinking about this. We would like to play a role in scaling some things but we just don't want to jump into it to be on the bandwagon.

(Blake) There's a lot to figure out in corporate wellness.

(Nancy) Yeah. Absolutely.

[00:36:55] (Blake) And a lot of it goes back to intention and motivation as we talked about. You can give people resources but it doesn't mean they're going to take advantage of those resources and corporate wellness programs are testimony to that. So many companies give employees access to nutrition counseling, access to fitness services, and a lot of that goes to waste employees just simply don't utilize those resources or typically they find out in a lot of companies that people that utilize the resources are the people that would utilize them anyway. The healthy people stay healthy. My own theory on that is that corporate wellness needs to become more cool and that you know it right now it has to do mostly with telling people that they should eat better and giving them access to a membership gym. But as we've seen, through the years, and I've seen personally through the years what's really cool out there is boutique fitness people want to go take a yoga class with their friends or a Pilates class or a barre class or indoor cycling or Crossfit® and so on. So I think corporate wellness may be lagging behind, a little bit, the fitness culture and what's really seen as hip and cool out there.

[00:37:59] (Nancy) I think you're right about that. But I have a question for you because I agree with everything you've said but when I hear it, one of the things I worry about is that things that are happening in corporate culture are helping the haves and the white collar workers to get healthier and healthier and ever healthier and new and more fun ways. And there's still this whole disenfranchised base, many of whom aren't participating, not because they necessarily want not to be fit or to get diabetes but for a lack of time. You know so if you are working two or three minimum wage jobs and you have a couple of kids your employer can be giving you all sorts of gym memberships but the possibility of going there is like slim and none; time is a problem. And I'm just wondering what your thoughts are on how do we avoid widening the gap there. [00:38:50][50.8]

[00:38:51] (Blake) I think it's a real challenge. The socioeconomic divide is real and we see it it tends to be the privileged that access those services that I talked about that are cool and by privileged I mean from middle class and upper middle class you know and upwards but below that, we don't see a lot of people engaging in those. It's a difficult problem to solve. I don't think there's one easy answer.

I think if we are going to shift it as a culture, we do need to start and it behooves us to start with the haves if you will because the haves I think also have a desire to help the have nots. And I love this about the millennial generation. I think the millennials are going to help us shift this, because this generation by and large came in feeling like they want to do something that makes a difference in the world. They feel connected to everyone and they want to do something that helps. In fact corporations need to really tune into this because if you don't provide jobs that help millennials to feel like what they're doing has real purpose and meaning and is making a difference in the world, they're going to be down the street to the next company that is.

So I think if we can really effectively start to move the needle on that and then we can start to bring together and figure out ways to pull the rest of the culture up as well.

[00:40:04] One idea that I have for that is a fund. If we were to have some sort of a wellness fund and we were to connect corporate wellness to boutique wellness and the technology currently exist to do this but I have a dream that one day it might. And what that might look like is, when you go to buy your 10 pack for your Pilates studio or your yoga studio. Maybe the technology, the app, gives you the option of donating five dollars to a Wellness Fund.

And so as a consumer of wellness services,  sort of like supermarket checkout you could donate to this wellness funds. And then companies that MINDBODY serves, which is over 50,000 of these boutique wellness studios could be mindful of raising money for that fund as well. And if collectively, we could all start to as the haves start to contribute to a fund like that then people could apply to that fund to render services to the underserved communities. So you have someone who is a yoga teacher or a Pilates teacher. I know these people really well they want to deliver services to the underserved, to the woman shelter that's down the street, to the disabled veterans that want to come in and take Pilates as part of their rehabilitation. But those people need to make a living as well. It's a struggle for a lot of practitioners to make a living and so they need to be paid a living wage as well.

If there were a wellness fund, they could effectively petition that fund to supplement delivering services to the underserved communities. That's one idea that I have know that we could all come together on this.

[00:41:37] (Nancy) Very interesting. Well one of the things I'd like to see happen is challenging the big companies that employ people at the low end of the spectrum to really work hard on cracking the nut in the workplace, not necessarily so much you know with a gym membership but with norms and values that really sort of help established habits.

I think that's part of what's been missing in the workplace wellness and I don't have the answers of exactly how to get us there but it's got to be more than a program or a thing that you do. It's got to be a real embrace of norms and culture that you know just like if you're a parent and you want norms and culture in your house that your kids are going to eat well and be healthy. I think employers have to take more responsibility.

[00:42:25] (Blake) I agree with you. And I think the leaders need to walk the talk. And it can be challenging for leaders because guess who the most stressed out, busiest people are at corporations? The executive and the leaders. They are working a lot of them around the clock. It's challenging for them they have to really challenge themselves to stop and go work out or take a few minutes to meditate. It's a challenge when you feel like you're on that treadmill.

It goes back to this cultural revolution that's needed. And I think it's a revolution that's needed from the top to the bottom. It's one of the conversations that I'm interested in having on this podcast as we interview the Wellness Revolutionaries in all these dimensions of wellness. Is this Wellness Revolution that's taking place in that I've been privileged to have a front row seat for for the last 20 years is mostly for the haves. It's mostly for people that have access to resources. So how do we collectively pull everyone up?

[00:43:21] (Nancy) Well I do believe that's one of the reasons that I talk a lot and think a lot about the cultural shift. I think when companies start really thinking about how they're using their marketing dollars, where they're targeting their marketing spend of the the double decker cheese pizza with cheese stuffed into the crust and then nacho fries. So you've got all the sodium, saturated fat of the regular fries before you even get to the cheese sauce. Companies need to think culturally about what they're doing and not just making the easy appeal to the taste but I think that's part of it.

And I do see out here in California, among Hollywood, there is a real interest in the culture and trying to and that's one of the reasons we're really trying to leverage cultural icons. But the third piece I do think is the workplace. That's a big piece of culture.

The data shows that there's two windows. When people are open to changing habits early childhood and we're all over that. But early adulthood when kids leave home. And so if they leave to college, you know, we have a program where we're working with 60 college campuses and you all are helping us offer some new opportunities there. But where else are young adults? If they're not in college they're at work and the workplace. It's really an important catchment place. I know there's been a lot of failure in a lot of frustration in part because big Fortune 500 companies bought into employee wellness under the guise that their insurance premiums were going to drop and that didn't happen. And a lot of people have a sour taste in their mouth. But this is not a country of quitters like just because we didn't get it right. I think we really need to come back at that one. [00:45:09][108.1]

[00:45:10] (Blake) Well this is really about the collective will. And I've talked about this before but I tend to not see this as a monolithic battle that be fought in one-on-one playing field. It's really billions of different battles that are going on in the hearts, minds, and souls of each of us, including you and including me.

And I think we do tend to think of these problems as something that's happening out there how do we solve this out there? How do we solve this in the marketplace? In the corporations? Well, that out there are millions or billions of individuals. So how does the will of those individuals actually shift if that will doesn't shift from the inside we’ll never shift this as a culture.

I've shifted through the course of my lifetime. It sounds like we had similar upbringings. I was raised on Wonder Bread and Twinkies and Kraft Singles cheese and Coca-Cola. I was raised in a really unhealthy environment and I'm now one of the healthiest people I know in terms of what I put into my body. So something changed along my personal journey. And what motivated that change? Part of it was the influence of the people that I was around. I was lucky enough to go to college and I was around people that were healthy. I happened to fall into a crowd that was a fitness crowd, so I was influenced by the people that I was around. Absolutely. I was also influenced, just physically, by my own health failing when my body started to shut down and I think this is happening more and more because of that junk a lot of us putting in our bodies and I think the statistics bear this out more of us are having physical issues. And when my body shut down, I was forced to make a change. I was forced to to eat healthier, but I'm curious in your life and I see a lot of passion in you.

(Nancy) Yeah.

(Blake) And I'm just curious about where that comes from?

[00:46:53] Well, you know, it's a really good question because like you you know I grew up eating a lot of the processed stuff that people of my generation did. Even though being low income had a benefit in that you couldn't afford some of the worst processed food. So it forced you to be a little more natural. But I'm actually thinking out loud like really what was my transition point. And honestly, I think it probably was in graduate school getting connected with other people who lived different lifestyles and really valued health. But then I guess maybe with every year that's passed, it's become more passionate for me because a new piece is added to the equation.

You know when I was on the global scene and you saw just in so many places people didn't have access to enough calories at all. And then you saw what a profound difference nourishment could make to a child. You could literally watch in front of your eyes a listless child come to life over the course of six to eight hours of having nutritious food. And it's hard to see that. And I just realized, wow, what we're putting into our bodies makes a powerful difference. Likewise, you know, at the food bank, many more experiences like that. So more fully appreciating the power of the connection between food and health, but the physical activity part came later. I've always been a really active person, I've always loved to climb, ride bikes, run, jump, swim my whole entire life, but somehow I was really slow in coming to the cognitive link between that movement and my sense of physical well-being. And you know when I was with the United Nations and traveling so much and planes all the time you get a taste of what it's like not to move and you suddenly realize how fundamental it is to wellness.

[00:48:48] (Blake) We talk about on this show the seven dimensions of wellness and how they're interconnected. You asked me before we started recording what dimensions I thought was the most important, which is a challenging question. What do you think is the most important?

[00:49:01] (Nancy) It's a hard question to answer because really on a personal level, I mean, Nancy Roman, the spiritual element. But as the CEO of PHA, I have to acknowledge, and I deeply believe that the physical dimension, eating well, and getting sleep and moving and exercise contribute to not only the physical dimension itself but also to the spiritual dimension.

[00:49:30] (Blake) But do we treat our body well, do we put good nutritious things in our body, if we don't feel some sort of a connection if we don't feel some sort of higher purpose and meaning in our life?

[00:49:42] (Nancy) Some people do. I think I do believe that there can be a connection between those things but I think there are some people who eat well and don't necessarily connect with the spiritual side.

[00:49:54] (Blake) You and I share this notion that we really need a cultural revolution here. The trajectory we're on is not glowing. It can also be argued we live in one of the best times to be alive in human history because of the access to all of the things we have access to.

[00:50:08] (Nancy) But the best times to be alive in human history for people like you and me, you know, there really is, unfortunately, a large percentage of our own American population that's disenfranchised and doesn't have opportunity to eat vegetables, to get a good education, and so forth. And globally even more so. I mean if you look at what's happening in Yemen and Syria and what's happening in Pakistan and in tough parts of Asia and Myanmar. I mean, there are extraordinarily difficult things happening globally.

You know I'm an optimist and it can be easy to accentuate the positive and focus on this great opportunity. But the truth, is it's a tough time in the world and there's a lot of people disenfranchised. But you moved from where you are to the next spot. Right? And I do believe we're on the cusp of a revolution and wellness and well-being that I believe is happening in the United States and globally more slowly. I think we have an opportunity to lead. I think the United States of America can lead on this and bring others along. It will definitely be a global revolution.

But I just think it's important to be attentive to the fact that there are disenfranchised parts of the population and as we lead this revolution we have to be really careful that we're looking at those who are disproportionately affected because it's the lowest income in every single country that has highest rates of obesity, highest rates of diabetes, highest rates of heart disease. And even though I'm an optimist I feel really if you talk about authenticity it's disingenuous not to call that out and to challenge anyone listening to this podcast to help solve that piece of the problem too.

[00:51:58] (Blake) And how can someone help solve that?

[00:52:00] (Nancy) You know we're doing it every day. I think the private sector holds the key to start working with their own minimum wage employees. And innovation can be a big piece of it too.

[00:52:10] (Blake) Well we've talked about things on a broad scale here. What can an individual do to actually help add fuel to this Wellness Revolution?

[00:52:19] I think there's a role to play for every single person, not only in their own personal decisions what they're doing in their own life, but given the role that they're in for the many, many millions of people who work in the private sector, I think to look at the potential their own companies have to affect big systems change.

One of the reasons that I left the Capital Area Food Bank, which was a very rewarding organization, where you're are seeing firsthand the impact on, you know, a child without food to a child getting food is because there was more opportunity to affect things at the systems level. You know when you can really move upstream and take sugar out of yogurt for all the millions of the customers of Dannon you're really, really, really having big impact.

[00:53:10] (Blake) The Dannon company publicly celebrated that it had met and in some cases, even exceeded its commitment to partnership for a healthier America by reducing sugar and all of its children's products while decreasing fat and increasing nutrients in all of its products. And to Nancy's earlier point and her stated ambition, the change wasn't just good for kids it was also good for business. While their customers waistlines decreased, Dannon's bottom line actually increased.

[00:53:42] (Nancy) There's really not a company around that doesn't have an opportunity to have a system’s wide approach if you're not a food or exercise company you might not have an obvious first level business fit but then you can have the systems impact with your own employees. So, that's where I see real opportunity.

[00:54:02] (Blake) What sized companies are you looking for to partner with in PHA?

[00:54:06] (Nancy) Every size. We partner with large, we partner with small. I mean, obviously the bigger the company, the more instant scale you get. And we have a lot of huge companies.But one of the things I like about working with you, MINDBODY, is you bring along a lot of your member companies that are smaller and frankly,you know we need everybody of all sizes to participate.

[00:54:25] (Blake) Definitely going to take all hands on deck to really turn the tide in this revolution.

As we begin to wrap up I want to kind of go back and end where we began and ask you about meeting Michelle Obama and what was it about the chemistry between the two of you that had her later to ask you to lead the PHA>?

[00:54:44] (Nancy) I think the most important thing that Michelle Obama did was to recognize that the organization that she helped stand up and found was going to go through a tough transition when the Obama's left the White House and to really open her hand and, you know, embrace the fact that there would be a new leader coming in.

And when we had our first meeting one of the things that we really personally connected over was having a start in life, you know, without having a whole lot. And you know when I hold her in some detail about my own story one thing she said is, “Nancy, you know, you have to tell your story because people look at people and they draw conclusions and, you know, they see a white, female CEO at the top of a national organization and they assume that you always had things handed to you.” It was really pretty interesting. It was an interesting point of connection. I sometimes think that socioeconomic connectivity can be almost bigger than any other thing.

[00:55:53] (Blake) Do you ever feel like what you do is a thankless job? Or do you feel like you get recognized for the good work that you do in the world?

[00:56:01] (Nancy) No, I have to say I absolutely never feel that what I do is a thankless job. Of course like any job in leadership, there's a million painful pieces to it that are invisible to most people. But I don't think of that as thankless. I think it's a real privilege to lead the organization. And I'm honored to do it.

[00:56:21] (Blake) Well, I want to thank you for what you do and thank you for being here. You are a true Wellness Revolutionary and inspiring to me, personally, and I know inspiring to a lot of other people. Thank you for what you do.

[00:56:32] (Nancy) Well thank you very much. It's an honor to be here. And right back atcha

[00:56:47 (Blake) Well I really enjoyed that conversation with Nancy Roman and I was also lucky enough to get a little one-on-one time with Nancy through the course of the BOLD Conference in San Diego.

It's always such a thrill for me to meet and talk to someone who genuinely shares this deep passion and drive for leading the Wellness Revolution. And we were able to do some brainstorming and heart storming together about a few things, including corporate wellness programs and employee wellness programs =, which I think it's safe to say we also share a passion for and have some really great ideas about things that we may be able to do together and we're excited about working together into the future.

[00:57:35] I'd like to thank my guest Nancy Roman  of the Partnership for a Healthier America.

If you are a leader in your organization and you genuinely care about building a culture of wellness in America your call to action is simple: look into joining this effort. You can go to a or simply Google “Partnership for a Healthier America.”

Big thank you to the organizers of the MINDBODY BOLD Conference for making this interview possible. Thanks to Jonny Lang for his song, “Make it Move.” And last but certainly not least, I'd like to thank my producer Brent Pearson.

[00:58:13] And, of course, I appreciate you taking the time to listen. I'm Blake Beltram. The revolution is on. I'll see you next time.


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