WASHINGTON, DC — More than 140 civic leaders in government, business, health and other sectors from 14 communities and regions across the country gathered September 9-10 at the YMCA Activate America: Pioneering Healthier Communities National Conference to brainstorm solutions to America's rising health problems of physical inactivity and obesity.

Participating delegations included an array of local and state leaders nationwide including mayors, state senators, city council members, state and local public health directors, and business leaders from national insurance agencies, financial institutions and grocery store chains. Universities, schools and hospitals were also part of the collaboration.

“This is really a starting point, and one of the questions we need to ask is who else needs to be at the table?” said Kristin Hurdle, associate director of state public policy of the YMCA government relations and policy office. “There are many with good relationships with for-profits. The problem is so large that we all need to be part of finding the answers.”

Pioneering Healthier Community initiatives vary depending on local needs and realities such as demographics or geographic location, but efforts may focus on school nutrition, engaging older adults in physical activity, community design and public policy, according to Hurdle. Representatives from each community team will reconvene next year to share their results and solutions that can be used by other communities nationally.

“With the epidemic of obesity and physical inactivity, we are just convening community leaders,” she said. “It's such an epidemic that we need all hands on deck.”

The conference featured more than 30 experts from government, philanthropic and academic circles including U.S. Health and Human Services (HSS) Secretary Tommy Thompson, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and Executive Director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Melissa Johnson.

The conference is part of the multi-year YMCA Activate America initiative to help build an infrastructure for replicating model programs and approaches in developing healthy communities nationwide based on advice and support from HHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.