From magazine shelves and Pinterest, to blogs and the morning news, Americans are bombarded with a steady stream of diet talk on a daily basis. When was the last time you made it through a day without encountering an advertisement, blog or social media post promising a “fast and easy” route to a slimmer, healthier you? In reality, there is nothing fast and easy about maintaining a healthy weight and in spite of the fad diets touted on TV, a growing number of Americans struggle with obesity every day. Obesity is a growing epidemic that is fast becoming one of the most important public health problems of the 21st century. That has serious implications for the health care industry. According to the Centers for Disease Control, annual medical spending for an obese person is up to $1,429 higher than for a person of normal weight. Obesity-related conditions include some of the leading causes of preventable deaths each year, like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Given the prevalence of this issue in the communities we serve, Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies across the country have identified reversing the trend of obesity – especially in children – as a specific area of focus as we work to foster healthier living environments across America. In fact, the collective efforts of the Blue System on this issue were recognized with Honorable Mention in PR Daily’s 2013 Corporate Social Responsibility Awards. Here are a few of the examples of how The Power of Blue – The Blues® commitment to creating healthier communities – is helping people live healthier lives: Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield - The Wellmark Foundation awarded a grant to the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) - a national nonprofit organization that champions local, sustainable solutions to reduce poverty and promote healthy communities - to implement its Fostering Healthy Diets in Children Through Vibrant School Projects program. The Wellmark-funded initiative, which benefits multiple schools in the Des Moines area, seeks to address the problem of childhood obesity by fostering scholastic food environments that feature fresh fruits and vegetables and sustainable, garden-based education through its FoodCorps programming. The premise of the initiative is to demonstrate beautiful, productive school gardens that engage students in experiential learning, community members in volunteerism and teachers and staff in teaching and shared leadership. School gardens are spaces where children learn to grow fruits and vegetables and, in doing so, begin to grasp the interrelationship of the food they eat, the soil and sunshine, nutrition, cooking and agriculture. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana – Among the 50 states, Louisiana currently ranks sixth for adult obesity and fourth for childhood obesity. Because environment shapes how individuals make decisions about diet and fitness, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation issued a challenge to communities across the state to help reshape their environments to support healthy living and prevent obesity. To help these communities succeed in combating obesity, the Foundation, along with the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, which is known for its work in fighting both childhood and adult obesity, developed the Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant program. The program aids communities in implementing healthy eating and active living programs along with environmental change initiatives that support healthier communities for children and families across Louisiana. The programs include the Live Lively LaSalle 5k run, Capital Area Pathways Project and Mobile Playground Baton Rouge, which encourage active living, and the Fresh Beginnings Project Fit America program, which installed exercise equipment at four Baton Rouge elementary schools. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts – BCBSMA celebrated 75 years in business by dedicating new resources to combating the obesity epidemic. Through 75th Anniversary Grants, BCBSMA invested in four nonprofit organizations to advance the long-term health and nutrition of children and families. Those included Project Bread, Boston Natural Areas Network, Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council and Urban Food Initiative. The grants allowed the organizations to do everything from improve community gardens; to fund nutrition education programs in schools and low-income communities; to partnering with grocery stores to collect their unused but still fresh food and offer it at steep discounts in community-based markets for underserved neighborhoods in Boston. To learn more about what the Blue System is doing to combat obesity in our communities, download the full Investing in America’s Health Report.