I have had the distinct honor of working with Matthew McConaughey over the past few years, and his Oscar win for “Dallas Buyers Club” is not only a crowning achievement for his acting career, but also for his relentless commitment to the betterment of health.
McConaughey’s final comment at the end of his acceptance speech for best actor last night, “Just keep livin’” was not just an elegant byline, but a mantra for his life.
As a tribute to his father, McConaughey established the Just Keep Livin Foundation (JKL) to educate and instill the importance of good nutrition and fitness to an emerging generation of children. The foundation has established a rigorous program that has been highly structured to foster McConaughey’s ideals of JKL. The program has been very successful in various schools across Texas and California in inspiring kids to pay more attention to their health, hence reducing the incidence of obesity.
In recent weeks, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association that the obesity rate for young children dropped from 13.9 percent in 2003-2004 to 8.4 percent in 2011-2012. Nobody knows for sure why the rate dropped or whether the trend will continue.
The bad news is that the same study, based on national surveys, showed no significant changes in obesity rates in older children or in most adults. In fact, obesity rates went up among women 60 and older. A third of American adults and 17 percent of youths are obese.
Clearly, there is a lot of work to do. The dietary and physical activity behaviors of children and adolescents are influenced by many sectors of society including families, communities, schools, child care settings, medical care providers, and the food and beverage industries and entertainment industries.
Schools play a particularly critical role by establishing a safe and supportive environment with policies and practices that support healthy behaviors. Schools also provide opportunities for students to learn about and practice healthy eating and physical activity behaviors
Past research has shown that kids are more likely to pick foods endorsed by celebrities, even when it's fruit. For example, a 2012 study found kids who were offered both cookies and apples were more likely to choose the apple if it had an Elmo sticker on it.
The impact of childhood obesity to our emerging youth is daunting, and while many programs have been launched to create greater awareness, few have created measurable impact in actually improving outcomes.
The remarkable side of McConaughey is his analytic mind that has truly imbibed the importance of data and measurable outcomes that has enables the JKL program to have such an impact, especially at the school level.
McConaughey’s role in “Dallas Buyers Club” is yet another example of how he has leveraged his presence to bring to the forefront the challenges faced by the AIDS community in the early 80s, and puts into broader perspective the plight of millions of individuals who struggled for access to the right treatment.
As McConaughey was preparing for the film, he was required to lose about 40 pounds – which he claims he was able to accomplish through dancing. While such dramatic weight loss is ill-advised, and only done with the appropriate medical guidance, McConaughey’s commitment and focus to what was required of him to assimilate in his movie role is an inspiration to those who struggle with the day-to-day challenges.