Canada speaks before Hamblen County Health Council on obesity
Rick Canada, program director of the Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Program at the Tennessee Department of Health, addressed members of the Hamblen County Health Council Wednesday afternoon. He discusses points of the presentation with, from left, Pam Purkey, public health educator from the Hamblen and Jefferson county health departments; Sherrie Montgomery, director of the Hamblen and Jefferson county health departments; and Hamblen County Health Council Chair Judy Potter-Yates.
Rick Canada, director of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Prevention, for the Tennessee Department of Health was the guest speaker Wednesday afternoon at the February meeting of the Hamblen County Health Council.
Canada, the first director of the program and tasked with leading the state’s efforts to defeat obesity, discussed the obesity epidemic in Tennessee.
“It’s not all your fault,” Canada said. He explained that in the 1960s, there was no obesity problem in the United States. He showed a picture of a group of lanky young men on spring break on a Florida beach. At that time, these men represented what normal looked like, Canada said. Then he showed a picture of a more recent group of young men on spring break. While not fat, these men were beefier than the men in the first picture.
“We all looked like we were skin and bones back then,” Canada said. “Something happened.”
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that in 1988, no state had obesity numbers above 15 percent of their state’s population. Tennessee, with one of the better stats at the time, was below 10 percent.
By 1997, the CDC was starting to see a disturbing trend in the number of obese Americans. By 2005, several states were above 15 percent. By 2007, Tennessee was the third worst in the nation, behind Mississippi and Alabama. By 2010, no state had obesity rates below 20 percent.
The most recent CDC statistics from 2011 show the overall U.S. obesity rate is 27.5 percent. At 29.2 percent, Tennessee is the 15th worst in the nation. The best, Colorado, has a rate of 20.7 percent. Hamblen County, with an obesity rate of 32.9 percent rates 50 of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Williamson County, at 23.8 percent, is the best in the state. Hardeman County is the worst at 38.6 percent.
Canada said “if you want to focus on something (to address the obesity problem in Hamblen County), focus on the kids.”
He showed statistics that in the 1960s, only 5 percent of children in the country were obese. In the 1980s, obesity rates shot up across the board for all ages.
“That’s why I think it’s more than just behavior,” Canada said. “I think other factors happened to our society.”
Americans are eating out more, eating fewer home-cooked meals and engaging in more sedentary activities. In 1962, 75 percent of meals were eaten at home. By 2002, that number had dropped to 55 percent.
Canada showed a picture of a physical fitness establishment with escalators to take exercisers up to the building to exercise.
“We’re engineering physical activity out of our lives,” he said.
Canada said he doesn’t believe programs are the answer.
“The CDC inundated us with programs in the 1990s and they didn’t work,” he said. He believes the solution, instead, is setting up the environment to make it easier to be healthy. Canada said we have to give people a choice, but make to make the healthy choice the easier choice.
Tennessee has implemented the Eat Well Play More Tennessee initiative, a comprehensive plan to reduce obesity and chronic disease in Tennessee. The work plan addresses the problem on a number of fronts and offers suggestions for communities to address issues where we live, play, learn, heal and work and addressing the needs of vulnerable populations.
Canada said only 2 percent of people are genetically predisposed to being overweight.
“It’s your behavior. It’s what you do,” he said.
For more information about the program initiatives, visit eatwellplaymoretn.org.
The next meeting of the Hamblen County Health Council is scheduled for noon, Wednesday, March 6 in the conference room of the Hamblen County Health Department.
-By Denise Williams, Tribune Staff Writer