New state obesity data sparks excitementTennessee has moved from the third most obese state to the 15th in two years. In addition, it has done something quite rare: it has rolled back the obesity rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adult obesity rates dropped from 32.9 in 2009 to 31.7 in 2010. While 2011 data cannot be compared to earlier years because of changes in how the data is collected and compiled, the CDC has now dropped Tennessee into a category of less than 30 percent obesity statewide.
“While obesity rates are beginning to plateau in the U.S. as a whole, rates in Tennessee have actually declined for the last two years in a row. Change is under way in Tennessee,” said Roger Cone, Ph.D., the Joe C. Davis Chair in Biomedical Science at Vanderbilt and a researcher on the biology of obesity.
Cone, who directs the Vanderbilt Institute for Obesity and Metabolism (VIOM) says he believes Vanderbilt experts like Joan Randall, MPH, have been key in driving change in Tennessee. Randall serves as VIOM’s administrative director and public health advocate and as the executive director of the Tennessee Obesity Task Force (TOT).
Since 2008, Randall has used a multi-sector approach across the state, connecting with experts at Vanderbilt and other academic institutions, as well as Tennessee Department of Health, city planners, school officials, state agencies, policymakers, community advocates, transportation experts, nutritionists, parents, and representatives of Tennessee’s most vulnerable populations. Under her leadership, TOT developed and implemented the CDC-sponsored state plan for obesity prevention: Eat Well, Play More: Tennessee.
Randall says credit goes to grassroots efforts such as schools that share their playgrounds and gymnasiums with families after hours, farm-to-table programs and a walk/bike route on the grounds of a historical battleground. The TOT is a magnet for these efforts, stimulating collaboration and information sharing. Randall says if TOT has had the effect of building momentum, she is pleased.
“Tennessee is becoming one of the more progressive models around healthy living. An important part of our work is promoting policies that help support personal responsibility. We want to make it easier for those who want to make healthier choices,” Randall said.