March is National Nutrition Month, which is a great opportunity for us to learn more about the value and benefits of healthy foods.
Tennessee currently ranks 39th in the nation for overall health by America’s Health Rankings Report, which is up from 42nd the previous year. It is important that we focus on our progress and build on that momentum because there are still some critical areas in which we have a lot of work to do.
One of those areas is obesity. Nearly 1.5 million adult Tennesseans are obese, and adults aren’t the only ones facing this problem. Data from 2009 shows that nearly 30 percent of school children surveyed are overweight or obese, and it is impacting all demographics.
Obesity negatively affects the circulatory system and contributes to high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. It is a leading risk factor for type II diabetes, and Tennessee currently ranks 46th in the percentage of adults who have diabetes. Obesity is also associated with increased risk for cancers including colon, breast, pancreas, kidney and esophagus as well as for arthritis, gallstones, and even Alzheimer disease.
While the health of our citizens is certainly a quality of life issue, it is also an economic issue for Tennessee. The complications of obesity cause significantly higher direct medical costs, numbers of days absent from work, loss of productivity at work, numbers of days absent from school, and lower grade levels completed in school to name a few.
In early January 2011, I announced the formation of a task force to examine serious health issues facing Tennesseans. The group’s mission is to chart a course for promoting and supporting healthy lifestyles across Tennessee, with the goal of ultimately decreasing rates of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
The Health and Wellness Task Force is chaired by Dr. John Lacey, University of Tennessee’s Chief Medical Officer, and members represent prominent health care companies, leaders of health related state agencies, and other important stakeholders in the large effort of improving the health of Tennesseans. Just last week, the task force announced that it will focus on the issue of obesity, and I look forward to working with the task force and Tennesseans to turn around the trend in our state.
As we observe National Nutrition Month, I want to take this opportunity to encourage citizens to “Get Your Plate in Shape” by learning more about the value of healthy foods.
We often think about being healthy from the perspective of what we have to give up, but there is actually a lot to be gained. Healthy foods can be delicious, and exercise can be a lot of fun. It is a matter of individuals and families being intentional about identifying what bad habits they might have and then finding realistic changes that will work for them. By working together on issues impacting our health, I am confident that we can make a difference in Tennessee.
For further information on nutrition and to learn more about balanced eating plans, please visit the United States Department of Agriculture’s “MyPlate” web site at www.choosemyplate.gov.