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Tennessee Obesity Task Force takes on growing weight problem across state

Tennessee Obesity Task Force takes on growing weight problem across state
KNOXVILLE — Com-bating Tennessee’s obesity rate and that of the nation was on the agenda when 80 participants gathered for the Tennessee Obesity Task Force conference, held recently at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.
“Our purpose was to share information on activities happening in East Tennessee and provide examples of programs that could serve as models for potential implementation elsewhere in Tennessee,” said Dr. Betty Greer, professor of UT Extension Family and Consumer Sciences. Greer was one of the presenters at the event.
“When we talk about obesity prevention or reduction, we’re talking about programs under way in schools and communities by UT Extension and UT research and education initiatives, and many of these are collaborative efforts with the Knox County and Tennessee health departments, transportation and parks and recreation departments and organizations, the Knox Area Coalition on Childhood Obesity, Vanderbilt University and the American Heart Association, among others,” said Dr. Naima Moustaid-Moussa, co-director of UT’s Obesity Research Center and another presenter at the conference. “At the task force meeting, representatives of each of these areas described the steps they are taking to reduce Tennessee’s rate of obesity.”
While the state recently dropped from ranking third in the nation for obesity to eighth, its rate of obesity remains of concern. The Centers for Disease Control says 31.7 percent of Tennesseans are obese, compared to 27.6 percent for the U.S. as a whole. For the U.S., the percentage of severely obese stands at 6 percent and is expected to rise to 11 percent by 2030. Severely obese is defined as 100 pounds heavier than a person’s healthy weight. A body mass index (BMI) of less than 25 is a healthy body weight. You can check your BMI at
As most people know, it is very difficult for people in today’s environment, with lots of unhealthy food and less opportunity for physical activity, to avoid gaining too much weight, Greer said. “It takes constant diligence to eat healthy foods (foods low in fat and sugar) and get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. But physical activity and healthy foods make a big difference in how people feel.”
The “why should we care” about this, she added, has to do with children not being successful in school, people not feeling well, loss of productivity at work and loss of quality of life overall. “In addition to these factors, we’re talking about a tremendous burden to the healthcare system, and that’s due to the chronic diseases that are related to obesity, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.”
Dr. Moustaid-Moussa’s presentation highlighted UT collaborative research across over a dozen departments and units in Knoxville campuses represented in the UT Obesity Research Center. Research expertise include basic science as well as clinical and population research, which involves both undergraduate and graduate students. She indicated that obesity leads to fat tissue expansion and inflammation. The latter is a major contributor to the metabolic disorders associated with obesity, some of these studies are conducted in animal models of obesity. UTORC members are also testing behavioral interventions to determine effects of energy density, sedentary behaviors and physical activity during TV viewing on energy balance. Additional information about the center and its members can be found at
Greer presented information on eWellness, a web-based program available statewide that promotes a healthy lifestyle. With participants organized as teams, the program guides people in making healthier lifestyle choices. Proven impacts through participation include significant weight loss, decrease in glucose level and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. Information on eWellness may be found at
A contributing factor in Tennessee’s obesity problem has to do with the amount of time youth spend watching television and playing with electronic devices. It’s estimated that these activities, known as screen time, consume an average of six hours and 45 minutes a day. “Our children are not getting enough physical activity,” said Moustaid-Moussa, “and that’s a problem for adults, too.”
Another culprit involves not enough servings of fruits and vegetables a day, along with consumption of sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks and fruit juices, all high in corn syrup or sugar. “Through our educational programs, we are emphasizing incorporating more exercise or simply moving around into our lifestyles and making healthier food choices,” Greer said.
A high note from the conference had to do with the rapidly increasing number of organic farms in Tennessee, which make fresh fruits, vegetables and meats available locally. A presentation from Sysco Foods highlighted the economic impact of promoting local foods. A study in a region that includes Knox County showed that if consumers were to purchase just 5 percent of all the products they eat at home from local sources, it could generate $100 million for the regional economy. Since 2008 the number of certified organic farms in the state has more than doubled, making locally grown foods widely available. UT Extension is active in guiding local producers and UT AgResearch is conducting high-caliber research in areas of organic production and sustainability.
The Tennessee Obesity Task Force consists of 409 collaborating programs and agencies located in communities throughout the state. You can learn more about the organization at
Published in The Messenger 5.23.12