This week the Inside Track continues a series of interviews with members of the Strategic Advisory Committee of Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and American Heart Association, exploring their various contributions to the fight against childhood obesity.
Born into a political family in Virginia, advocacy came naturally to Carter Steger.
I don’t ever remember a time of not being involved in a political campaign,” says Steger, senior director of state and local campaigns for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). “I was stuffing envelopes at an early age. I didn’t realize how unusual that was.”
“Politics has always been present in my life. Policy work has always been present in my life.”
At first, she tried to move away from that, recalling that she was “burned out on politics” and decided to pursue studies in religion and philosophy. But she worked part-time at the American Cancer Society, and when she returned to school after some time in the corporate world to earn an advanced degree, the Society was hiring again. “The rest is history,” she says.
She started out in her home state, creating a policy and lobbying presence there, then became a leader of the advocacy program in a number of Mid-Atlantic states. She moved to the Society’s national organization in the late 1990s.
ACS CAN, the Society’s advocacy affiliate, is charged with “creating and implementing the advocacy agenda” for the organization at large. Steger and her colleagues support state advocacy programs throughout the country, including those focused on obesity prevention and physical fitness, two key mitigators of cancer risk.
“I work with tremendous volunteers across the country who are as much family to me as my own family,” Steger says, as well as “tremendous staff and coalition partners.”
The organization’s involvement in the Voices for Healthy Kids campaign is a natural fit. For at least the past decade, Steger notes, improving healthy habits through education and school programs has been a priority of ACS CAN and the American Cancer Society at large.
“This is a core issue for us,” Steger says. “We’re committed to making sure that kids have nutritious meals in schools, getting the marketing of unhealthy foods out of schools and the surrounding areas,” as well as improving access to safe places to exercise, among other issues.
“What we bring to the table is a huge grassroots army behind us and policy and strategic campaign planning expertise,” she says. “That’s what I see as our role in the conversation.”
The fight against cancer is also personal for Steger. “I lost both my parents to cancer, including my father when I was in my 20s,” she says. “I’ve had too many friends lost this way, and I’m tired of it.”
“I’m working to put myself out of a job! And I’d rather it not be because of retirement age.”
Donna Brutkoski authored this article.