Institute/Nutrition Department Will Use Center of Excellence Grant to Strengthen Environments to Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Rutherford County, Tennessee, Farmers Market
A $1 million USDA grant to the UT Institute of Agriculture and UT Knoxville will fund a new regional center to help families learn to make healthful food choices. This produce was recently for sale at the Rutherford County, Tenn., Farmers Market, which is set up to accept EBT cards. Photo by J. Becker, courtesy UTIA.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – One of every three children in Tennessee is overweight, and more than 20 percent of our children are obese. Childhood obesity has been linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and poor academic performance.

Adults in Tennessee aren’t faring much better. Our state’s overall obesity rate tops 30 percent. In a study based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tennessee is the fourth worst state for obesity.

These are not encouraging facts, but the University of Tennessee is working to solve our state and nation’s obesity problem through outreach efforts from UT Extension and the UT Institute of Agriculture, and UT Knoxville’s Nutrition Department.

“We want to take what we’ve learned in Tennessee about childhood obesity prevention, and strengthen our outreach efforts across the country,” says UT Extension Assistant Dean Laura Stephenson, who leads its Family and Consumer Sciences Unit.

The USDA recently announced UTIA and UT Knoxville will receive a $1 million grant for this effort. It will be used to create a Regional Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Center of Excellence to strengthen Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program Education (SNAP-Ed) and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) educational programming for low-income children and families. The center brings together the expertise of nine research institutions. Utah State University will also receive funding for a similar project in the western U.S.

“This new center will focus the expertise of a broad network of professionals to develop a system where families can learn to make healthful food choices,” says Stephenson. “Our goal is to decrease obesity and strengthen nutrition education efforts, and change the environment for families so adults will live healthier, and the children will develop good, life-long habits.”

The center will focus on reducing obesity by analyzing programs to identify barriers to healthy living, and training and evaluation needs for partnering agencies. The funding comes from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

“Childhood obesity rates in America have tripled over the past three decades,” says NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “While we are beginning to see promising signs of progress with the epidemic leveling off in children, these grants will help evaluate and strengthen existing nutrition education and obesity prevention efforts to help ensure this progress continues.”

Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions.


Contact: Charles Denney, 865-382-8058 (mobile),


USDA Grant Announcement