New Program Aims to Improve Health in Areas with High Obesity Rates

Family bicycling

A new UT Extension effort, funded by the CDC, will focus in part on family-based approaches to combat obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke in four Tennessee counties. The effort will enlist community coalitions to bring about improvements to parks, walkways and greenways as well as to schools and other locally based centers of community activities. Photo courtesy UTIA.



KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – University of Tennessee Extension has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of more than $987,000 to reduce the rate of chronic diseases in four West Tennessee counties: Lake, Lauderdale, Haywood and Humphreys. Tennessee State University Extension is a cooperating partner.

The targeted diseases are obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The effort will span age groups from kindergarten to seniors.

The Programs to Reduce Obesity in High-Obesity Areas Award is part of an HHS initiative to support public health efforts to reduce chronic diseases, promote healthier lifestyles, reduce health disparities and control health care spending. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will administer the grants. The award amount will cover one year of effort and is subject to renewal for up to two additional years.

Overall, HHS awarded
$4.6 million in new grants to six universities. The program funds land grant universities located in states with counties that have more than 40 percent prevalence of adult obesity. Universities will work through existing cooperative extension and outreach services in those counties to improve residents’ access to healthy foods and physical activity opportunities.

Project Director Heather Wallace, an assistant professor of human development in the UT Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, says 48 community organizations and state-level letters of support have already been gathered to support the effort. “The community coalitions are essential to success,” Wallace said. “In order to account for, and respect, the culture and context of communities we will be working with each coalition as they drive their own initiatives to improve local health.”

Wallace says county departments of health and local school districts are among the strategic partners who will participate in the effort, which is also aligned with Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s Small Starts Healthier Tennessee initiative.

“We will take a three-pronged approach to combatting these health crises,” Wallace added. “We plan to tackle problems from the county and community level, in neighborhoods and homes and also in schools.” The initiative will include evidence-based programs such as the Smarter Lunchroom program through which school cafeteria workers will learn healthier methods of food preparation and presentation. “So much goes into healthy eating,” said Wallace. “For example, the physical arrangement of a lunchroom influences how children make food decisions. We want them to make smarter decisions,” said Wallace.

The effort will also include improvements to parks, walkways and greenways to make outdoor activities, i.e., exercise, more appealing to people of all ages and to families and community groups.

Wallace notes that, “It’s time to approach the growing obesity epidemic and its related chronic diseases from a family-based, multi-generational perspective. Involving family and community systems in healthy living experiences generates a culture that focuses on holistic well-being using available resources that are close-to-home. The CDC notes that chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the leading causes of death, disability, and health care costs, accounting for 7 of 10 deaths among Americans each year, and more than 80 percent of the $2.7 trillion our nation spends annually on medical care.” Wallace says that this grant uses an approach that maximizes funding in a manner that leads to sustainable change in communities and reduces long-term healthcare costs for all.

To learn more about UT Extension’s prevention and wellness projects, visit the website for the
Department of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Family and Consumer Sciences and UT Extension are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. UTIA also provides instruction, research and public service through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine and UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 AgResearch and Education centers. UT Extension maintains offices in every county in the state.

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Contact:

Heather Wallace, assistant professor and human development specialist, UT Extension, 865-974-7193,
heather.wallace@utk.edu

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Centers for Disease Control Awards announcement