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Speaking out and taking steps against childhood obesity in Memphis.

February 9, 2010

A couple of weeks ago in Washington D.C., First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the U.S. Conference of Mayors about the epidemic of childhood obesity.

“Obesity is also one of the biggest threats to the American economy,” Mrs.  Obama said at the conference. “If we continue on our current path, in ten years, nearly 50 percent of all Americans will be obese – not just overweight, but obese.  So think about how much we’ll be spending on health care to treat obesity-related conditions like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.  Think about all the missed days of work and decreased productivity we may see as a result.

“And this isn’t some far-off, future problem we’re dealing with.  Many of you are already seeing some of the costs and consequences in the cities and towns you lead.”

Today, Mayor Wharton released a statement to support Mrs. Obama’s new initative to address childhood obesity, and cited a variety of public/private partnerships, strategies, and events that we are working on here in Memphis to deal with the problem:

“I share Mrs. Obama’s sense of urgency about dealing with this critical problem.  In the past several years, a number of nationwide surveys and publications have declared that Memphis is America’s ‘fattest’ city.  Right now, Tennessee ranks third in the nation for the highest rate of childhood obesity.  This has to change.

“Obesity in children impacts everything from their high school graduation rates to their workplace productivity to their healthcare costs to incidences of diabetes and heart disease later in their lives.  This is a problem that can and must be dealt with early.

“As Shelby County Mayor, I pioneered efforts to begin construction on ‘rails-to-trails’ programs that will make innovative use of some abandoned CSX railways that run through Memphis.  This week, we break ground on the first six and a half mile stretch of one of these lines, and I anticipate that it will be ready for bikers, walkers, and joggers to enjoy by this summer.  These ‘greenline’ projects are notable in Memphis in that they link our inner city areas with our suburbs, creating open, free, and easy access for all Memphians to an outstanding fitness amenity.

“I am also going to be directing our City Engineering Department to move forward with expanding the number of safe, well-maintained bicycle and pedestrian lanes throughout the city of Memphis.  I believe that by making some small, strategic adjustments to our repaving schedule, we can expand the number of available bike lanes by several hundred miles.

“I am also enthusiastically supportive of the innovative steps that Memphis City Schools, our local public school system, is taking to address this matter.  They are expanding physical education classes; developing more durable, state-of-the-art new athletic fields for school and community use; and adopting a new nutrition policy to mandate more fruits, vegetables, and healthy eating options in their cafeterias.

“Clearly a problem of this magnitude cannot be solved by government alone, and so I am proud to report on a number of partners who are stepping up to meet this challenge:

  • The Healthy Memphis Common Table is a regional health and healthcare improvement collaborative for the greater Memphis area, focused specifically on four areas of intervention:  healthy lifestyle changes, preventative care, consumer friendly health information, and environmental policies that focus on health equity.
  • Memphis’ Church Health Center is a non-profit ministry focused on meeting the wellness needs of our city’s working poor, and their 80,000 sq. ft. wellness center provides affordable workout facilities, cooking workshops, and yoga classes to hundreds of families who would otherwise lack access to these services.
  • On May 8, I will serve as honorary chairman for the Junior League of Memphis’ (JLM) inaugural “5K for Kids -Taking Steps to End Childhood Obesity.”  Proceeds will go towards JLM’s “Kids in the Kitchen” program that teaches kids healthy habits and how to make healthy snacks/meals.

“Ultimately, this problem must be dealt with at the grassroots level – with every parent and guardian, in every home, in every school, in every neighborhood.  I know that we can make significant progress to reduce childhood obesity in Memphis, and I look forward to the support of the First Lady’s office and our myriad of local and regional partners to make it happen.”

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