NBA superstars – and brothers – Marc and Pau Gasol offer wellness and fitness to SoCal kids

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Teaching kids to adopt healthy eating habits is a hands-on directive for Gasol Foundation.
(Photo courtesy of Gasol Foundation)

At this time of year, people tend to spend a bit of time reflecting on how they can give back. Whether it be through a charitable donation, volunteerism, or even spending some quality time with friends and neighbors simply listening and being supportive, the holiday season is the perfect time to offer some form of charity.

Now, what if you had the opportunity to found a charitable giving foundation? What form would it take? Where would you focus your efforts? Brothers Marc and Pau Gasol, both NBA champions, were posed with these questions in the early 2010s. Eventually, their combined effort gave rise to Gasol Foundation – among the nation’s leading charities fighting childhood obesity. Former L.A. Lakers, the brothers focused their efforts in the Los Angeles region, where over2 million kids are at risk of obesity and its related negative health outcomes.

Their choice is rooted in a deep personal interest and concern for children’s health and wellness in general – in fact, Pau was in his first year of medical school prior to being called up to the professional level in their hometown of Barcelona, Spain. Both Marc and Pau realized they could leverage their positions, prominence and voices to offer direct help to families via guidance, education, and financial and emotional support; the Gasol Foundation was born.

Representatives from Gasol Foundation were kind enough to talk with “Giving Back: Philanthropy Issue” about the foundation’s start, its directives and mission statement, and its future helping the kids of Southern California live their best, healthiest lives.

“We aspire to a world where all children grow up healthy and are able to reach their full potential.”

Give us a little background on Gasol Foundation’s beginnings. What led Marc and Pau to decide that the health crisis in childhood obesity was a cause for them? How did they arrive at the Foundation’s mission statement and hope for Vision-Zero Childhood Obesity?

Growing up with two parents in the medical field, Marc and Pau were made aware of the importance of practicing healthy habits from a very early age. They have always shared a passion for children’s health and well-being. When deciding to start their own foundation, they did significant research to determine what the greatest threats to children’s health are. Obesity continually came up as one of the most serious health challenges facing children today. As a result of childhood obesity, we are facing the first generation of kids who have a shorter lifespan expectancy than their parents.

Childhood obesity is preventable, and Gasol Foundation takes a preventative approach to eradicating childhood obesity through research, data-driven programming and advocating to make healthy lifestyles more accessible to all children. Through our zero-childhood-obesity vision, we aspire to a world where all children grow up healthy and are able to reach their full potential.

Beyond roots with the Lakers and the NBA, what led Gasol Foundation to choose Southern California as its home base? How does being in the region aid the Foundation’s mission both locally, nationally and internationally?

Pau was playing for the Lakers when the foundation launched in 2013, and he wanted to ensure he could playa significant, direct role in the work of the foundation. Los Angeles County is home to over 2 million children, and most live in communities with high rates of childhood obesity. Like many health disparities, the obesity epidemic disproportionately impacts racial and ethnic minorities from low-income communities, especially African Americans and Latinos. That is why the Gasol Foundation focuses its energy on promoting healthy lifestyles in underserved communities, reaching children and their families through our programs, activities and initiatives.

Being in Southern California offers the opportunity to collaborate with other nonprofits, government agencies and the private sector to bring a collaborative and interprofessional perspective to obesity prevention work.

Shortly after launching in Los Angeles, the foundation expanded operations into Marc and Pau’s hometown near Barcelona, Spain. Together the operations in both the U.S. and Spain are leading the charge globally to prevent childhood obesity and promote healthy habits.

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(Sergi Pons Photography S.L.U.)

What is one of the foundation’s greatest success stories, and what are some of the biggest challenges the organization has overcome?

Gasol Foundation has had many successes since its inception. One of our greatest successes is being able to provide sustainable programming in three key communities over the past six years. Sustainability in health promotion is crucial in maintaining health benefits, increasing community capacity and optimizing resources. We have engaged families in health promotion and have measured positive outcomes in health behaviors and weight status.

“To address childhood obesity in Southern California, we must come together to ensure we are empowering children to live healthier.”

Another success that we are particularly proud of is how we have been able to impact children and families who need us most during the pandemic. Like many others, we were hard hit by the pandemic and all our programs came to a halt. However, we were able to make a quick shift to offer programming to help children remain healthy at home. We provided emergency needs for families, including healthy meals and supplies, and lobbied to have the menus for school-aged children changed in Spain, resulting in more nutritious meals provided throughout the country.

What role does the Southern California community play in the fight against childhood obesity? What are some of the best ways to ensure childhood health on a micro and macro level, and how does this dovetail into the generosity we see in the region’s personal and corporate charitable giving, volunteerism and sponsorship?

The childhood obesity pandemic is a complex problem driven by multiple systematic, environmental, behavioral and psychological factors. As a society, we have changed the types and quantities of food we eat, reduced physical activity and engaged in more passive leisure-time pursuits. In addition, the current crisis has led to the deterioration of the health habits of thousands of boys and girls in our country, especially in the most vulnerable communities.

To address childhood obesity in Southern California, we must come together to ensure we are empowering children to live healthier. We all have a role and responsibility to the young people in our community. We need to improve access to more nutritious food and safe spaces to play for children in underserved communities. We need to ensure that we support children’s emotional well-being, which is incredibly important in their overall health. We also need to seek sustainable solutions that, beyond immediate aid, provide long-term interventions to contribute to the empowerment of the most vulnerable communities and the reduction of health inequities.

Gasol Foundation remains committed to expanding our efforts to help children and families who need us most, but we can’t do it alone. We rely on the generosity of partners, donors and volunteers to make our life-changing work possible.

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(Sergi Pons Photography S.L.U.)

What do the next five years look like in this fight for childhood wellness? What is the Foundation most excited about? Given the Foundation’s triple-prong approach through research, public engagement, and advocacy, how do you see that balance being maintained and innovated upon?

Childhood obesity rates are expected to continue to increase. We have only begun to see the implications of COVID-19 on children’s health. Kids’ levels of physical activity decreased during this time, nutrition also was impacted, stress levels increased and sleep patterns disrupted – all leading to a greater likelihood of obesity.

“Gasol Foundation remains committed to expanding our efforts to help children and families who need us most.”

It has become apparent that the need for childhood obesity prevention is greater now more than ever. In the next five years, there will be a lot of work to do in reengaging communities and stakeholders around health promotion. We are committed to working in all three areas of research, direct service programming, and advocacy around childhood obesity and are taking steps to advance in each one. We are excited for new and expanding partnerships to continue to reach families in need.