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Health Department

Dr. Paul's Tennessean Guest Column - November 30, 2010
Pay Attention to Food

Thanksgiving is a time when we all think about the food. Whether it's the big turkey dinner or reminders to share with those in need, we become more aware of feasts and famines, abundance and hunger, at this time of the year.

What we eat has a huge impact on our health and well being, so there are good reasons to think and talk about food throughout the year. In Nashville we are recognizing how profoundly our food environment—what food choices are close by and within reach--influences what we eat, and therefore our health.

Many of us never have to worry about where the next meal is coming from. Yet last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 17 percent of American households—more than 50 million people--had difficulty providing enough food due to a lack of resources, or "food insecurity." Many rely on generosity and the food 'safety net' to avoid hunger, and when basic nourishment is the top priority, filling foods that aren't very healthy can predominate. This is one reason to donate more peanut butter.

Research has shown that living near a quality grocery store is linked to better health. Some of us drive (or walk!) to a quality grocery store without a second thought. But in some of Nashville's neighborhoods chips and sugary drinks are easier to find than apples, and a trip to the grocery store is an ordeal. Lack of access to healthy food can contribute to diabetes and other health problems that are now epidemic. For this reason, many partners in Nashville are working toward solutions to bring better food choices into these "food desert" neighborhoods.

As part of a national initiative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Nashville was one of 44 cities to receive a Community Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant to facilitate changes that increase access to healthy choices in our neighborhoods, schools, work sites, hospitals and places of worship. This effort is working to create healthier places throughout Nashville by facilitating policy and environmental changes that support healthier eating and physical activity.

Together with our community partners, city leaders and residents, we are embarking on an intensive campaign to make Nashville a healthier place. The CPPW effort will address challenges to accessing food and physical activity through efforts such as a healthy corner store program, an expanded bike share program, community and school garden support, and advocacy for more nutritious school food.

Inspired by the season of thanks and goodwill, we hope all of Nashville will carry this spirit into every season, and join with us in creating and supporting healthy places throughout our community.

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