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Health Department

Dr. Paul's Tennessean Guest Column - March 31, 2011
Response to County Health Rankings

There is good news and bad news in the 2011 county health rankings released (Tuesday). The good news is that Davidson County ranks better than most Tennessee counties for many health indicators. The bad news is that Tennessee and Davidson County both have much room for improvement, especially on the major killers, tobacco and obesity.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death. The trends in smoking have been downward, but rates for Tennessee and Nashville remain significantly higher than the national rate.

Unhealthy food and physical inactivity represent the second leading cause of preventable death. We track obesity as one result, but no matter how you're shaped, a healthy diet and regular physical activity prevent illness, disability and death. Nashville has lower obesity rates than many other Tennessee counties, but the rates are high and climbing everywhere.

For years, we have faced a steady stream of reports about how unhealthy we are. Last month a report designated Tennessee part of the "lethargy belt." Does that help? Only if we can move from rankings, opinions, and talk to effective action.

Nashville has been taking significant steps toward better health. For one thing, there are more and more great places to be active. Mayor Dean has led the way by committing $3 million in the current fiscal year for an extension of greenways, $5 million for the expansion of parks, and $12.5 million for sidewalks. The Mayor also signed a "Complete Streets" order that will in the long run make it easier and safer to walk or use a bicycle for transportation in Nashville. Finally, The Mayor's health challenge for people to walk 100 miles in Nashville's greenways and parks will help connect Nashvillians with some of these healthy places. Find out more at

The Health Department is midway through a 2-year, $7.5M cooperative agreement with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to put prevention to work through a multifaceted campaign that supports healthy eating and active living throughout Nashville. The NashVitality campaign is providing a boost to communitywide efforts to make healthy choices easier, more convenient, and within reach for everyone.

As part of NashVitality, Metro Nashville Public Schools has invited advocates and experts to form a School Nutrition Advisory Committee and begun to make changes in support of healthier school lunches. An early change is the reduction in sugar in the chocolate milk.

School and community gardens are being planted to improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables all over Nashville.

In coming months, the NashVitality campaign will roll out an expanded bike share program and corner stores that offer healthier food in neighborhoods without grocery stores. A Healthy Workplace Prescription will offer tools and recognition to employers to support healthier food and exercise in the workplace.

NashVitality isn't just about a government program or a grant. It is a spirit and a movement to create healthier and greener--conditions all around Nashville. Schools, universities, churches, communities, employers, and families are taking action. We'll succeed and our rankings will improve--when opportunities to eat healthy food and safe places to walk, bike or play are everywhere. Come walk with the Mayor. Join the movement.

William S. Paul, MD, MPH
Director of Health
Metro Public Health Department of Nashville/Davidson County