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State’s obesity forecast not rosy

Jennifer Sprouse • Sep 19, 2012 at 7:59 PM

Predictions say Tennessee may soon be going through a growth spurt, but it may not be one the state is proud to be a part of.

According to a Tuesday Associated Press story, more than half the Americans in 39 states will be obese by 2030, with Tennessee predicted to be at a 63 percent obesity level.

Projections by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation come from results based on state-by-state surveys by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1999 to 2010.

Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of the college of public health at East Tennessee State University, said Tennessee has struggled with the obesity epidemic.

“We’ve had a challenge in Tennessee with obesity. All over the country the obesity rate has been going up,” Wykoff said. “I think we have to wait and see a little bit about these predictions. What we’ve seen in the last year in Tennessee, for example, our rate of obesity went down 32.9 to 31.7. I’d really like to see another year of data before we conclude that these predictions are accurate.”

In the AP article, Mississippi was ranked as the worst state for projected obesity levels in 2030, followed by Oklahoma, Delaware, Tennessee and South Carolina.

Wykoff suggests the nationwide problem has many factors, rather than just the preconceived notion that people are just overeating.

“Generally speaking, obesity is higher among lower income people and we have higher rates of poverty in the South then they do in other parts of the country,” he said.

He said other reasons for the country’s growing obesity problem include larger volumes of food, more calorically dense food, access to food that’s easy, such as fast food, calories taken in by drinks consumed, as well as a reduction in physical activity.

Wykoff said Tennessee does have an obesity task force, Eat Well, Play More Tennessee, as well a local initiative, Heal Appalachia, a collaborative effort by Mountain States Health Alliance and ETSU, that are working to combat obesity in the state.

“People are starting to rediscover local foods and healthier foods and coming to understand that sometimes just because something is fast or easy it doesn’t particularly taste good or is particularly good for you. We didn’t get fat overnight, we’re not going to get thin overnight. It’s a long slow process,” he said. “Until I saw today’s report, I had been fairly optimistic. I had some reason to believe that it looked like our rate of growth was slowing down. Now, I can’t say definitively, so we’ll wait and see what next year’s numbers show.”

Wykoff said cutting back on the total number of calories and trying to eat a more balanced, healthier diet is one way to make that step toward a healthy lifestyle.

“I think the most important message is to help folks understand that it’s not an insolvable problem. We’re not talking about trying to get everyone to be marathoners. It’s really about healthy living and healthy eating,” he said.

On Sept. 11, ETSU received a grant from the Washington-Unicoi-Johnson County Medical Alliance for nutrition services. The grant was provided for faculty and students from the nutrition and dietetics program of the Department of Allied Health Sciences who will be working at the new Johnson City Community Health Center.

The $2,807 grant will come in handy to help those working within the center get supplies and educational tools, Beth Lowe, assistant professor at ETSU in the nutrition department and a registered dietician, said.

“The grant will help us to be able to purchase the educational materials that we need and to get audio-visual supplies and educational supplies of all sorts to supplement or augment the nutrition services that we will provide,” Lowe said. “We will have nutrition services available to anyone in the community or even the region that wants to see a registered dietician for various nutrition issues or concerns. Physicians can refer to us as well and we can manage all sorts of different disease types.”

“There’s a lack of knowledge and there’s ... a kind of lack of willingness on the part of most Americans to make a lot of significant changes,” she said. “So, we are trying to work with people to help them make significant changes in their lives that are manageable to them, that are acceptable to them and work these things into their current lifestyle so that it’s not so ... difficult to manage.”

She said graduate students completing internship programs also will be alongside the registered dieticians on rotation in the facility, which will give students the hands-on training they need.

“We’ve never had a nutrition clinic for our students to work in or for the public to have access to,” Lowe said. “This is really an exciting moment for us. It’s a whole new endeavour for the community. To have access to nutrition services like this is just remarkable, so we’re very, very excited about it.”

She said the new facility, located near Quillen ETSU Physicians off of State of Franklin Road, is scheduled to open this fall, possibly mid-October.

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