2011 is almost over, and before we bid it a fond farewell, we’d like to celebrate a few of the people whose expansive vision and hard work have made the world a little bit better this year — people who are giving us hope for a healthier 2012.
You’re probably familiar with some of these extraordinary individuals. Others may be new to you. But whether you realize it or not, all of them are having a big impact on how we live. And they are helping shape a brighter future. So if they’re not on your radar now, we suspect they soon will be.
There are countless heroes — both heralded and unsung — who work hard every day to improve the health of our population, our culture, our planet. We are indebted to a great many of them not just for insight and inspiration, but for the steady supply of forward-thinking wisdom we gather on the pages of Experience Life.
Since we couldn’t write about all of them here, we chose to focus on five movers and shakers who represent that whole category of heroes, and who do so with a particular kind of spark.
These are people who are driving, and drawing attention to, some of the best work being done in their respective spheres — people who are reaching broad audiences, connecting key dots and influencing the work of their colleagues.
All five are hardworking, in-the-trenches types: not just ivory-tower idealists, but hands-on collaborators for positive change. They are people who lead by example, change minds and lives, and inspire others to join them. And although they work in different realms by different methods, all of them are offering up practical solutions, hopeful perspectives and the promise of a new way forward.
Looking at them, we are reminded that healthy change can be both an exhilarating and an arduous process, and that it is always well worth the effort. We can’t wait to see what the new year brings each of our change agents, and what they bring to all of us.
Mark Hyman, MD
Functional medicine advocate, founder–director of the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Mass.
Change Domain: Addressing the root causes of disease and making nutrition and lifestyle treatments a part of standard medical practice.
Key Accomplishments: Four-time best-selling author; leading driver for healthcare change via education and public policy; consulted with the surgeon general on lifestyle treatments for obesity and diabetes; winner of 2009 Linus Pauling Award for Leadership in Functional Medicine.
When Dr. Mark Hyman’s outspoken support of integrative ideas stirs controversy, his supporters simply point to his effectiveness in treating patients. “Hyman is one of a select group of doctors in the United States who are demonstrating both by their clinical successes and leadership that there is a better form of healthcare available today,” says Jeffrey Bland, PhD, a nutritional biochemist who many consider to be the father of functional medicine. “He’s an advocate for his patients in seeking out the most effective and safe ways of managing chronic illness, and a lifelong learner with a broad perspective on the cultural, economic and sociopolitical issues that surround medicine. He also has a huge heart.”
Hyman has been vocal about his dissatisfaction with the current state of healthcare; he’s also among the health professionals who have been working most actively — and passionately — to change it.
Formerly co-medical director at Canyon Ranch, Hyman founded the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Mass., in 2004 in an effort to provide integrative health education and services to a broader population — through private practice, and through his books and online educational programs.
Committed to public-policy work, Hyman partnered with Drs. Dean Ornish and Michael Roizen to promote “Take Back Your Health” legislation — a 2009 bill that sought support for lifestyle-based approaches to treating chronic diseases. He testified before the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and at congressional hearings on related topics.
Hyman serves on the boards of many health-promoting organizations, including Dr. Mehmet Oz’s HealthCorps, which tackles the obesity epidemic by “educating the student body” in American high schools about nutrition, fitness and mental resilience. Since 2010 he’s served as chairman of the board for the Institute of Functional Medicine.
“Functional medicine is the future of conventional medicine — available now,” says Hyman. “It seeks to identify and address the root causes of disease, and views the body as one integrated system, not a collection of independent organs divided up by medical specialties.”
Over the past six years, Hyman has written four New York Times bestsellers, two of which have been turned into PBS specials. His latest book and companion PBS special, The Blood Sugar Solution, will be released in March. It addresses the global epidemics of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease from a functional perspective, and it educates people about practical lifestyle changes that can help turn these disease trends around.
For all these reasons and more, says Bland, Hyman is the face of a more hopeful future: “He represents a new breed of primary care practitioners who will create the healthcare system of the 21st century.”
Change Domain: Educating consumers about the impact of their purchasing decisions, and helping reduce waste worldwide.
Key Accomplishments: One of Time magazine’s “Heroes of the Environment” in 2008 for her work and her animated film, The Story of Stuff, which inspired a book, a school curriculum and a fleet of related projects.
Few people have explained as persuasively as Annie Leonard just how much our lives can be improved by giving our daily purchases a little more thought. Fewer still have had that persuasive message enthusiastically appreciated by millions.
To date, more than 13 million people have viewed Leonard’s 2007 animated film, The Story of Stuff, which handily explains the “materials economy” in just 20 minutes. Watch it and you’ll learn how stuff is produced; who pays for it, and how; what forces pressure us to buy more than we need; the impact all that consumption has on our well-being; and what happens to the resulting waste — from factories during production and by consumers when they throw stuff away.
The story is a sobering one, but Leonard engagingly explains why understanding the production cycle is an essential first step toward bringing overconsumption to a halt.
“Whenever I go to buy something, I get sidetracked, thinking of how it got here,” Leonard wrote in her Huffington Post blog in 2010. “It’s an occupational hazard. I spent a decade traveling around the world, visiting the factories where our stuff is made and the dumps where it goes when we don’t want it anymore. What I learned makes it impossible for me to look at anything and not see the journey it made through the global take-make-waste system.”
The viral spread of The Story of Stuff on the Internet may have helped shape the attitudes of a generation (and likely helped inspire the recent appearance of a number of other sociopolitical animated shorts on YouTube), but the Web is not the only forum for Leonard’s message.
In 2010 she developed a curriculum for schools and faith-based communities based on the film. She also released a book with more stories of her world travels visiting the sources and disposal sites for our stuff, and she partnered with Free Range Studios (her collaborator on the first film) to produce a number of additional animated shorts, including: The Story of Cosmetics, The Story of Electronics and The Story of Bottled Water.
While Leonard’s work covers a lot of ground, her take-home message is simple: We all benefit by becoming more aware of how our daily choices influence us — and our planet.
“When Leonard talks trash, people cannot help but listen,” environmental advocate Bryony Schwan writes in Leonard’s Time profile. “While her mastery of detail is impressive, it’s her passionate style that transforms bleak facts into emotive stories that compel you to take action.”
To watch any of Leonard’s films or learn more about her work, visit www.thestoryofstuff.com.
Primal fitness pioneer
Change Domain: Making physical fitness playful again; inspiring joyful activity and reframing it as essential to the full expression of human potential and happiness.
Key Accomplishments: Partner at National Institute for Play; founder of Exuberant Animal; and author of Play as if Your Life Depends on It, Exuberant Animal, and Change the World: Reflections on Health and the Human Predicament.
Until recently, most of us have operated with the belief that play is for kids and exercise is the dutiful domain of adults. That mentality is now changing, thanks in large part to the primal-fitness movement — and thanks in particular to one of its most articulate and tireless pioneers, Frank Forencich.
“We need to bring the body back into modern life,” says Forencich, movement educator and founder of Exuberant Animal, a Seattle-based health-leadership organization that celebrates natural forms of movement like running, climbing, playing and dancing.
Forencich, who earned his BA in human biology and neuroscience at Stanford University, has spent the past 30 years teaching functional movement and health promotion — not just for the sake of individual physical fitness, but for the sake of the human condition.
He sees the reclamation of our natural sensibilities as fundamental to our physical, mental and social well-being. In all his writing and presenting, he calls for an integrative approach to health and fitness — one that acknowledges the intertwining of psyche and sinew.
“The body is essential to cognition and performance,” Forencich says. Grappling, balancing, climbing and leaping not only make us more fit, he argues, they can also make us more intelligent, more engaged and more joyfully present in our lives.
At the core of Forencich’s philosophy — which underlies the principles of the primal-fitness movement he helped create — is a belief that humans, like all animals, thrive best in natural habitats. We perform best when called to use our natural intelligence and strength in experiential settings. And like all animals, we like to play.
Play is ancient, Forencich says, much older than we are as a species. And it’s by no means a frivolous pursuit. Animals use it in order to learn how to communicate, to bond with each other, to refine physical skills. Play develops agility, adaptability, balance and strength. But most of all, play is fun, so it works as an antidote to the widespread “physical unhappiness” that Forencich sees in the population at large.
“To Frank, fitness is not just a physical matter,” says Erwan Le Corre, another key figure in the primal-fitness movement. (For more on Le Corre, see “Corre Principles,” page 20.) “His approach is unique because it allows people to truly enjoy what they do and never see exercise as a chore or a punishment again.”
Ultimately, though, Forencich’s work focuses as much on elevating human potential as it does on honing physical fitness and happiness. When there are more of us living empowered physical lives, he asserts, our entire society will be changed for the better. Hence Exuberant Animal’s motto: “Change your body, change the world.”
To learn more about Forencich’s work, visit www.exuberantanimal.com.
Consumer health advocate and founder of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
Change Domain: Raising awareness about the dangers of toxic ingredients in personal-care products; driving policy changes that support safer formulations.
Key Accomplishments: Media strategist for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a nonprofit, consumer-protection coalition that she cofounded in 2002 and that has influenced the reformulation of leading nail-polish brands; author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry (New Society, 2007); lead organizer of the Safe Cosmetics Act in 2011.
Among the many who have campaigned for safety regulations in the personal-care industry, Stacy Malkan ranks among the most diligent and most impactful. Thanks to her efforts, the personal-care industry is in the midst of a sea change. Until recently, finding nontoxic and effective body-care products was a formidable task. Today, many of these safer products are becoming a prominent presence in mainstream stores, an important change in favor of public health.
“While the amount of each toxin [in these products] may be tiny on its own, the number of products most people use each day means we’re exposing ourselves to unnecessary risks — all in the name of looking and smelling good,” says Malkan, a self-described former makeup addict.
“Nowadays my obsession is focused not so much on what beauty products can do to change me, but rather what I can do to change them.”
In 2002 Malkan co-wrote a report called “Not Too Pretty,” which found chemicals linked to birth defects in more than 70 percent of body-care products on the market. Her book, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry (New Society, 2007), was praised by the likes of natural cosmetics pioneer Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Aveda, and longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader. It also influenced a generation of younger activists to take up the nontoxic torch.
“What amazes me about Stacy is the depth of her knowledge and how keen she is to engage in conversation with the cosmetics industry at large,” says journalist Siobhan O’Connor, coauthor of No More Dirty Looks (De Capo, 2010), a popular guide to safe personal-care products.
Over the past year Malkan has worked to get the Safe Cosmetics Act before Congress. The legislation would require the FDA to finally begin to regulate the personal-care market. If passed, it would protect consumers from potentially dangerous ingredients, and hold all producers to the same standards. “We’re going to keep the pressure on until there are no more cancer-causing chemicals in personal-care products,” she says.
Malkan is hopeful about regulation, but she also puts her faith in people — especially the increasing number who are choosing cleaner products. “In the choices we make every day, starting with the products we put on our bodies,” she writes in her book, “every single one of us can start turning that wheel of change.”
To learn more about Malkan’s work, visit www.notjustaprettyface.org.
Chef, cookbook author, TV personality and food activist
Change Domain: Improving public health by teaching people how to cook and enjoy whole foods.
Key Accomplishments: Host of Jamie’s School Dinners, a UK reality show about Jamie’s efforts to change school lunch menus across that country; host of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution in the United States; founder of Fifteen, a restaurant group that offers disadvantaged British youth a culinary education; winner of the TED prize for his talk “How We’re Killing Our Kids With Bad Food.”
Of the five change agents that we chose to recognize, Jamie Oliver is undoubtedly the most visible. But we think his commitment to curbing obesity and chronic disease through healthy cooking deserves even more attention than it’s getting. And that’s saying something.
Oliver’s hands-on efforts to instill healthier eating habits in children and families have already inspired millions, and his call for childhood food education and healthier school lunches has brought new energy and attention to a movement that had previously been struggling to gain national steam.
In the mid-2000s, Oliver’s UK-based Feed Me Better campaign and his documentary TV series succeeded in drawing attention to the deplorable state of English school lunches. His efforts also suggested that a positive shift in school-day nutrition could have a corresponding effect on kids’ academic performance and attendance.
In 2010 Jamie brought his show, — retitled Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution — to the United States. The program followed Oliver as he attempted to reform school lunches and home eating habits in Huntington, W.Va., a community with the worst obesity and diabetes rates in the nation.
Working from a firm conviction that ending people’s dependence on processed foods and teaching them to cook for themselves is essential to changing such conditions, Oliver marched into homes and schools determined to open minds and transform appetites.
His results, admittedly, were mixed. Not all of the good people in Huntington welcomed his advances. But his efforts sparked hope and a shift in consciousness that spread far beyond that town’s city limits, and that far surpassed his show’s prime-time viewership.
Today, even with the show on hiatus, Oliver continues to influence parents, cooks, school kids, administrators, policymakers and eaters of all stripes.
“Jamie Oliver gets my respect for his fearlessness in trying to intervene,” says nutritionist and author Marion Nestle, PhD, a professor at New York University. “While everyone else is sitting around bemoaning the state of the world, he’s in there getting his hands dirty and trying to make food better for kids. More power to him.”
Oliver’s mission is simple. He doesn’t promote a particularly stringent diet, but he does believe in the value of home-prepared whole foods, and of vegetables in particular. His goal is to teach, cajole, charm and, if necessary, browbeat all of us to begin cooking more of our meals from scratch, thereby sidestepping a whole slew of health problems associated with consuming industrially prepared and processed foods.
“Since I’ve been working in America, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people who’ve come out to support the Food Revolution,” Oliver writes on his Web site. “The only message I keep hearing is that you believe your kids need better food, and that you want to keep cooking skills alive.” At last count, Oliver’s Food Revolution petition had almost a million signatures of support.