10th Anniversary Spotlight: Lee Pearson, MS, DrPH
Since 2007, Eat Smart Move More South Carolina (ESMMSC) has been working with communities on initiatives to make the healthy choice, the easy choice. The founding partners recognized communities needed help to ensure there were places where people could be physically active and have access to healthy foods, where they live, learn, work, play, and pray. They created a foundation that has led to an organization with 25 ESMMSC chapters, representing 27 counties, and over 2,400 members.
In 2007, Dr. Lee Pearson was the director of the SC Public Health Institute (now the SC Institute of Medicine and Public Health) and accepted the task to lead a group of public health professionals who had a vested interest in obesity prevention. He was appointed as the founding chair of the newly formed ESMMSC Board of Directors. As Board Chair, Dr. Pearson worked closely with the founding executive director, Amy Splittgerber, and other Board members to create the necessary structure to ensure the organization’s operations and to position it for long-term growth and stability.
We recently talked to Dr. Pearson about ESMMSC’s 10th Anniversary:
This year we celebrate ESMMSC’s 10th Anniversary. What thoughts and emotions come to mind when you think about that?
I am so proud to help celebrate ESMMSC’s 10th Anniversary, as that significant milestone means that the mission of the organization remains vibrant and that the work of the organization continues to be vital to our state. Early in the obesity prevention movement, it was often difficult to “sell” the message of healthy eating and active living, and willing partners weren’t always easy to find. I’m amazed by the great strides that have been made and the considerable momentum that exists today in working to make the healthy choice the easy choice across our state. There are still challenges, but the awareness of the need to act is there, and the momentum continues to grow. Our state has a lot to be proud of in terms of our collaborative strength, and I am confident that South Carolina will be among the first states—if not the first state—to turn the tide on obesity. South Carolina is truly fortunate to have ESMMSC as a driving force in working to improve the health outcomes of our state.
What were your visions during your service?
Much of the initial focus of my service was on the practical aspects of establishing a non-profit and creating the organizational capacity for the work to be done. When time allowed for broader thinking, I did dare to envision a time when obesity prevention would be the default priority in communities across our state. Although we’re not there yet, we have come a long way toward that goal.
What do you see as ESMMSC’s biggest accomplishments since 2007?
There are so many accomplishments to point to, but I feel that the development of local community coalitions is the most impressive. The organic development of the first community coalitions paralleled the development of ESMMSC itself and demonstrated the real potential for the healthy eating/active living movement in our state. Today, the focused work that ESMMSC does to foster the collaborative strength of community coalitions is a testament to the value of this organization.
Where would you like to see ESMMSC in 10 years?
When ESMMSC celebrates its 20th anniversary, I am hopeful that a generation of partners and advocates will be able to look back and celebrate a sharp decline in our state’s obesity rates. I also hope that the South Carolina of the future will be a place where the healthy choice truly is the easy choice.
Dr. Pearson is currently the associate dean for operations and accreditation at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health.
Founded in 2007, ESMMSC is one of the first non-profit organizations of its kind in South Carolina focusing on both healthy eating and active living. Its roots date back to 1999 when the South Carolina Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity formed and received nonprofit status in 2000. After changing its name to ESMMSC in 2007, the organization merged with the SC Coalition for Obesity Prevention.