Forum addresses local health

Vicky Newman-News-Herald

The Loudon County Health Improvement Council has determined that obesity in Loudon County is a real problem, affecting 31 percent of adults.

If increases continue at the current rate, local obesity will reach 40 percent or more by 2030.

To address the problem, a community-wide awareness campaign is being planned in the coming months.

Kathy Knight of Loudon County Economic Development Agency, facilitated a community forum Friday at the Loudon County Visitors Bureau as a first step toward the campaign.

The forum included breakout sessions for group discussions about contributing factors and community issues associated with obesity, solutions to the obesity epidemic, barriers to solving the problem and sustainable solutions.

Larisa Brass, who is working on a doctorate in community health, said the implications of obesity are great in terms of the economic impact.

"Medical costs are $1,400 per year higher for people who are obese," she said.

Research shows that those who exercise 2 1/2 hours a week will extend their life by 3 1/2 years. "It doesn't take big changes, just little incremental doable things," she said. "This is a preventable, fixable problem."

Clayton Pangle, executive director of the Loudon County Visitors Bureau, said obesity was one issue being considered by the PlanET regional planning consortium, of which he is a member.

"One thing all the people at PlanET agreed on is that the necessity for looking at improving our trail network," Pangle said. "Communities are addressing this problem. We need a trail network like Maryville's. (Loudon County) Mayor (Estelle) Herron has created a trail committee ... we're heading in the right direction."

The breakout groups identified contributing factors to the problem of obesity, including:

● Fast food - whether from restaurants or microwavable foods from stores - are the option too often chosen for dinner. Families work long hours and depend on fast food because it is cheap and convenient.

● Lack of nutritional education. A generation of children of working parents did not learn to cook from their mothers and do not know how to prepare nutritious meals.

"It's awful easy to pick up a Happy Meal on the way home from work," Michael Bobo, Loudon County Chamber of Commerce president, said.

● Fitness facilities are not affordable for low-income residents who tend to be among those more likely to be obese.

● Schools today have little time for physical education.

● Society has become sedentary. People sit at computers and desks all day instead of doing physical labor. They drive to destinations instead of walking. Children no longer are able to walk to school. Video games and television have replaced outdoor games.

A multifaceted campaign to address obesity will include educational components and possibly assign points to participants for healthy practices.

The council is looking at a weight loss campaign with teams from businesses, industries, schools and health care organizations. Countywide, a goal of a million pounds lost might be viable.

Sheila Borders, University of Tennessee Extension agent, said she could provide cooking and nutrition classes.

Lasting health improvements would require a change in attitudes, similar to the anti-smoking campaigns of a decade ago, Mary Harding, Lenoir City Coordinated School Health officer, said.
Access to affordable fresh foods was a component of the plan.

Teresa Ward Keenan, LCHIC president, said the elements for the campaign hopefully will be in place by 2013.

"Things are really coming together," she said. "We have farmers who have agreed to let us come to their farms to learn to do small space, raised-bed gardens. Monterey Mushroom is very supportive, and they have said they will supply compost."

Participants agreed that Loudon County has many assets to help achieve and sustain its weight-loss goal.

According to information provided by forum organizers, obesity increases risk for a variety of diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, stroke, respiratory problems and cancer.