In 2008, only one state (Colorado) had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Thirty-two states had a rate of obesity greater than 25%, and in six of these states (Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) more than 30% of the population was obese (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
And the lovely Southern state, Tennessee, approaches the worst of the worst. With the 5th worst hypertension rates, 4th worst diabetes rates, and 4th worst adult inactivity rates, it’s no wonder this southern state ranks as the 2nd fattest in the nation.
Perhaps this dubious honor resulted from the government looking the other way when it came to health care and preventative measures in some of the unhealthy Southern states. For example, Tennessee receives some of the lowest federal funding for public health by the CDC. In 2009 it was the 9th least funded state with only $16.41 per person compared to the national average of $19.43. Interestingly, however, the within-state funding for public health is higher than the national average, which suggests state legislators are fighting for change. State funding in FY 2008-2009 was $45.74 per capita while nationally the average state public health funds hover around just $28.92. It seems Tennesseans are either starting to make wellness a priority or this large allocation of money to public health could simply be the only way to keep so many unhealthy cizitens alive.
So where does the money go? GetFitTN is a statewide awareness program developed by Governor Phil Bredesen to address the rising obesity epidemic and chronic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, that may result from unhealthy living. The initiative aims to convey the message that Type 2 diabetes can be delayed or even prevented with modest lifestyle changes like increasing physical activity and eating a balanced diet. When the GetFitTN program began in 2006, Tennessee ranked 48th in the nation for overall health status. Since then, they’ve improved to 46th, and hopefully, through the use of online tools and government encouragement, Tennessee can become one of the top ten healthiest places to call home. This is quite impressive progress in such a short period of time, but more importantly, it’s proof that investing in the health of the state is paying off by producing healthier citizens.
Earlier this month, state governor Bresden signed an executive order promoting healthier options in state-wide vending machines. “Many of the health issues that face Tennesseans today are things that a prescription or a doctor’s appointment or health insurance can’t fix,” Bredesen said. “The state has spent the past several years investing in prevention strategies like GetFitTN to raise awareness and address behaviors that lead to chronic disease, including physical inactivity, nutrition and tobacco use. State employees deserve healthier food choices and ought to be the leaders in moving toward a healthier Tennessee."
This is an important step not only for residents of Tennessee but for the global fight against obesity. Many Americans are aware of the need to eat healthfully but work schedules, finances, and other factors often get in the way. If the government steps in and makes healthier foods more appealing, then Americans will be nudged in the right direction. While this bill in no way forces healthy food on people, it does make it easier to make smart food choices. Although it’s a small change, research shows that one step in the right direction can have a snowball effect which leads to continued healthy choices throughout the day. Tennessee: you’ve got a LONG way to go, but keep up the good work!