Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nashville gets $7.5 million to fight obesity

City will use grant to promote healthier lifestyles; 1 of 5 children and 2 of 3 adults in the city are overweight By Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • March 24, 2010 If people don't have a bike, the city will rent them one. If someone can't drive to get an apple, the city will bring fresh fruits and vegetables to nearby stores. If people won't stroll outside because of a lack of sidewalks, the city will build them. Nashville health officials say they know how to shrink waistlines, and a new $7.5 million federal grant will get the city started. One of five children and two of three adults in the city are overweight, and obesity-related medical costs in the state were more than $1.5 billion in 2008. The state's ranking as fourth fattest in the nation is a glaring reminder of the work that needs to be done. "For the first time, our children may not live as long as we do because of obesity, diabetes and a failure to eat healthy and partake in physical activities," said Dr. Bill Paul, director of the Metro Public Health Department. "We want to make Nashville healthier. We're already starting." The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded Nashville an obesity prevention grant that will be used over two years to target the city's obesity epidemic. The money will be used to: • Make safe walking routes to school for children, an initiative in partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools. • Begin The Golden Sneaker program, which will help teachers incorporate physical activity and healthy eating into the curriculum. • Create bike rental kiosks around Nashville so people can see the city and get exercise at the same time. • Promote healthy eating by putting fresh foods in corner stores and neighborhood markets. • Increase awareness about cyclists and motorists sharing the road and improve policy and signs on shared roads. Initiative to create jobs The health department will create 40 full-time jobs and 40 part-time jobs to run the program, which includes collaboration with the mayor, Metro public schools, the chamber of commerce and local advocacy groups. The department will post jobs and begin hiring key positions immediately. Nashville was the only city in the state to get the federal money, though Shelby, Knox and Hamilton counties also applied. More than $372 million was awarded to 44 cities nationwide for the initiative, Communities Putting Prevention to Work, aimed at reducing obesity and smoking, and increasing physical activity. Adults and children will be targeted. A recent Harvard study found that rapid weight gain in the first six months of life increases a child's chances of being obese by age 3. In some obese toddlers, doctors see signs of hardening arteries around the heart. Too much fast food, sugar-sweetened drinks and increasingly sedentary lives aren't helping. Obesity can lead to higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, increased chances for breast and colon cancer, and greater likelihood of liver or gallbladder diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Due to lifestyle choices, too many Americans are experiencing preventable disease that lessen their quality of life and shorten their life span," Mayor Karl Dean said. "The people of Nashville are no exception." Progress reports Nashville health officials will work with the CDC to monitor — monthly, quarterly, annually and at the program's end — the impact on people's health and waistlines. Measurements of success will come from looking at policies and systems in place. For example, are more people getting on bikes available for rent? Is healthy food made available in communities without grocery stores? "We want to ensure we are on the right track, and if we don't measure along the way, we won't achieve a healthier community," said Dr. Alisa Haushalter, bureau director for the local health department and lead writer for the city's federal grant application. The state is grappling with how to turn the obesity epidemic around and get people to quit smoking. Tennessee was awarded nearly $2 million in grants to work on policies that include requiring physical activity in child-care settings and increasing anti-smoking programs. In Tennessee, more than 30 percent of adults are considered obese — about 68 percent are overweight — and among children, about 17 percent of whom are obese. The obesity and diabetes epidemics don't help the state's overall health rating; the United Health Foundation ranks Tennessee 44th in the U.S. "Most Tennesseans want to do the right thing, but if they have to get on a bus to get healthy food, it's hard," State Health Commissioner Susan Cooper said. "If you look at public health, our role is to create an environment of health. Reforming health sits square in the middle of the health debate going on now."

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