Creating a Healthier Memphis: The Fight Against Obesity

Posted on August 1, 2014


By Ashley Dill

Joan-Han-MDObesity has been a major health concern for the United States since the end of the 20th century. Historically, being overweight was seen as a sign of wealth and great status, but modern research shows that being overweight leads to shorter life expectancies, certain cancers, and heart problems. While diet and exercise seem like a manageable and easy fix, it still remains to be seen as totally effective, especially in major US cities.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the percentage of adults ages twenty and older who are overweight or obese is a massive 69% in the United States. A major contributing factor of this statistic is childhood obesity, which can start at just the age of two. Research shows that there is an estimated 16.2% of children between the ages of two and nineteen who are obese. These statistics leave the US leading the world in obesity by more than six percent, causing people to question how to prevent it and where is it coming from.

Since 2012, Tennessee has become the 7th fattest state in the United States with Memphis, Tennessee leading the charts as the fattest city in America. These reports have lead Memphis to start making changes by bringing in specialists and making the city more exercise-friendly.

Dr. Joan C. Han, (pictured above) professor and chair of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center Pediatrics and Le Bonheur Children Hospital’s pediatrician-in-chief, is coming to Memphis to be the founding director of the new UT-Le Bonheur Pediatric Obesity Center and to direct the new Le Bonheur Healthy Lifestyle Clinic. Dr. Han plans to reverse the obesity trend over time since healthy habits are the key to Memphis’s current obesity statistics. With her new Healthy Lifestyle Clinic, she hopes to educate Memphians with the concepts of health and fitness through focus on entire families, not only on the obese children themselves.

In 2012 a group of pastors, doctors, dietitians, public health experts, politicians, and grass-roots organizers all came together to discuss what needed to change in order to transform Memphis. Their efforts have created a record number of bike paths, farmers’ markets, and the creation of the hundreds of miles of trails for runners and bikers, known as the “greenline” in Memphis.

While efforts to improve the health of Memphis are constantly arising, there are major concerns with poverty that are also having a serious effect on obesity in Memphis. The Institute for Obesity & Metabolism at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine claims there is a large correlation between poverty and obesity because people who are poor have tighter budgets forcing them to by cheaper, more processed food. With a fifth of Memphis’s population living at or below the federal poverty line, obesity has become a cyclical problem.

A 2012 CNN interview with Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. makes an important point that efforts aren’t going towards diminishing Memphis’s rich food culture, but instead to promote healthy living in a place where food is and still can be an art form or religious experience for Memphians. Wharton understands that while change needs to be implemented, Memphis isn’t trying to be something they’re not; instead, it must evolve. Therefore, balance and knowledge become key in creating a healthier Memphis, both now and for future generations.

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Posted in: Health