Tennessee’s BIG Problem

Tennessees BIG Problem

Gavin Yuan

Obesity is a problem that is often raised but seldom truly appreciated for the amount of people that are affected. Especially in the Southeastern region, obesity has become a fact of society due to cultural and institutional deficiencies. The CDC has listed obesity as a national epidemic, with more than 32.2%  men and 35.5% women considered obese in a 2009 survey.

A person is considered obese if they have a BMI of over 30, which puts them at risk for complications such as chronic heart disease, diabetes and a low standard of living.Tennessee does not fare well in the national obesity epidemic, as the state is ranked 15th for adult obesity rate. According to the data, as of 2017, 32.8% of adults are considered obese in Tennessee, up from 20.9% in 2011. In the case of obesity-related illnesses, the state fares even worse when nationally ranked. The state is ranked 6th for adult diabetes and 7th for hypertension, which are both chronic illnesses that drastically reduce lifespan.

When looking at regions within the state, the trends involving obesity are still troubling. Those living in large metropolitan areas usually have better access to healthcare, health education, and nutrition. This usually translates to better health outcomes in cities compared to rural areas. However, a study on the heaviest cities in America put Knoxville at No. 6 and Memphis at No. 4. Nashville also made the list at No. 15. The most terrifying trend is that obesity and obesity-related illness rates have only gone up for the state and the region as a whole. In a time in society where the structure of healthcare and health insurance has become highly politicized, the underlying diseases often become lost in data. With an increase in obesity rates comes a host of other debilitating health issues that require intensive medical care. This increased medical care comes at a cost that is being funded by taxpayers. A 2008 statistic estimated that the annual medical care cost to the US is USD 147 billion. These costs include insurance payouts from obesity-related chronic illnesses as well as the cost of absenteeism of obese workers from the workforce due to increased health complications. The obesity epidemic has become so prevalent as to pose a serious concern regarding the ability of the army to maintain constant enlistment.  The military has previously expressed concern over the diminishing amount of people capable of meeting the physical requirements of military service.

Because of the alarming upward trend in obesity, national groups and local governments have moved to find a solution to this complex cultural, political, and medical problem. In 2014, Former Governor Bill Haslam launched an initiative named Healthier Tennessee in order to improve the Volunteer State’s health outcomes. The initiative’s goal involved mobilizing private and public institutions to take responsibility for the dismal culture of health and promote a better lifestyle. Healthier Tennessee not only provides information about accessing better nutrition and fitness, but also an app to track healthy habits. The goal is not to prevent people from accessing the foods that they enjoy, but to promote small steps that can alter the lifestyle of an individual for the better. This is done by promoting “Healthy Communities,”- groups of neighbors or local institutions that band together and pledge to live a healthier lifestyle. While the efficacy of Healthier Tennessee in reaching rural areas with less access is still pending, it is definitely a strong step in altering the culture of obesity in Tennessee.