Promoting a healthier Loudon

Members of the Loudon County Health Improvement Council are shown with Michael Bobo, far right, president of the Loudon County Chamber of Commerce, during a Business After Hours.

The Loudon County Health Improvement Council recently received $5,000 from a Healthier Tennessee Community Grant, and numerous officials across the county are doing their part to encourage physical activity and healthy eating through PLAYLoudon and other initiatives.

To receive grant, the council was required to show progress in three areas of community involvement in health and fitness programs.

To meet grant criteria, at least 50 percent of kindergarten though eighth-grade teachers must be using the GoNoodle interactive tool to promote exercise, and a minimum of 15 percent of churches with 100 members or more needed to use the Small Starts @ Worship wellness program.

At least 35 businesses with 35 or more employees also needed to use the Small Starts program.

Wampler’s Farm Sausage in Lenoir City is a participating businesses.

Vice President Sherri Wampler said the company is planning on looking into a Fitbit program to help employees stay focused on health and exercise.

“We put out monthly (information) on how to help people with stress and personal issues that arise at home,” Wampler said. “We have a company that we have hired. It’s like a support company for if someone has a dependency problem like depression. They can call the professional company and get help. They produce a monthly newsletter and posters that we post around to get everyone focused on their personal health and mental health.”

The Rev. Brian Truog, with Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church, said his congregation has been involved for the past two years.

“We kind of got on board right away,” Truog, who also serves as a Loudon County Health Improvement Council board member, said. “When the state of Tennessee was doing their initiative, we formed a health initiative team here that has been going for a couple of years. We put on health seminars three to four times a year for the community and promote health awareness within the church. We put together a manual to collect health information and so forth for the members. Every month, we post different wellness information for the congregation.

“We had one of our members trained by the state as an ambassador for the Healthier Tennessee initiative who is very much involved in the promotion of the Healthier Tennessee three main objectives,” Truog added. “We had another one of our members who hooked on with our PLAYLoudon part who was encouraging our members to record how many vegetables they ate and how many days they exercised, and that was reported back to PLAYLoudon. We’re very much on board with it and feel it’s very much a part of who we are.”

PLAYLoudon stands for physically active, living healthy adults and youth of Loudon County.

The community garden at Loudon Municipal Park opened last week.

Larisa Brass, PLAYLoudon co-chairwoman, said she plans to start a workshop garden for children during the summer. Additional details should be available in the next two weeks.

Loudon County and Lenoir City Coordinated School Health departments remain focused on providing physical activity and instilling healthy eating habits into school-aged children and their families, according to school officials.

“We are gearing up for our summer camps for kids in grades kindergarten through eighth-grade,” Melisa Fuhrmeister, Loudon County Schools health coordinator, said. “We focus on a lifetime of physical activity at those camps. ... We had a power up program, which is a morning program tied to academics and exercise. All of our elementary schools this year had running clubs that met after school.

“We also had a girls on the run program,” Fuhrmeister added. “It’s a program for third- through eighth-graders, but we really focus on third grade to fifth grade. They train over a couple of months for a (five kilometer) run that takes place in Knoxville. They also meet twice a week for an hour where they may learn about bullying prevention, being kind or it could be about nutrition. It’s just a variety of topics of how to lead a healthy lifestyle. They learn those skills while training.”

More than 50 percent of elementary teachers from Loudon County Schools are using GoNoodle to help students stay active, Fuhrmeister said.

East Tennessee Children’s Hospital has an obesity task force that works alongside preschool teachers at Loudon Elementary School on a program related to physical activity and nutrition.

Lenoir City Schools Health Coordinator Mary Harding said 47.15 percent of children screened in the district were considered overweight.

“I would say compared to the state, we definitely have a weight issue,” Harding said. “Here in Lenoir City, the numbers come in at 47.1 percent, although that represents numbers from 2012-13 because that is the latest data we have. The county numbers are lower. The state rate is 35.8 percent.”

“In the schools, we try a program with our pre-K parents for all of the special occasions including Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Harding said. “We give them a healthy snack versus the parents bringing in snacks. We choose healthy options. The parents come in, and they prepare the food for the kids. They learn the skills. It’s always fun.”

Harding said school officials focus on helping parents with younger children develop healthy eating habits.

“It’s really hard to change a high-schooler’s habits of eating,” Harding said. “The younger we can catch the kids, the better chance we have of moving that needle.”

Through the district’s after-school programs, the focus remains on providing healthy snacks and getting children involved with healthy activities, Harding said.

“We have our Quest Camps and a big part of that does consist of physical activity,” Harding said. “We incorporate our gardens into that curriculum. The Health Improvement Council has been working with the GetFresh! initiative to get reasonably priced produce to our citizens and families.”

Harding said most of the county is considered a food desert, making it difficult to find grocery stores nearby.

“A lot of our folks rely on convenience stores and gas stations,” Harding added. “... It’s really pretty interesting to see where all of the fast food restaurants are and then trying to convince people to eat healthy. Just go up (Highway) 321. It’s fast and most of the time it’s inexpensive. That’s the hard thing with eating healthy. When you go into the grocery store, a gallon of milk costs more than a gallon of gasoline. It really doesn’t make it easy to eat healthy.”

Harding said one of the main obstacles to eating healthy is the busy lifestyles of parents and children.

“For time and cost, people choose something that’s going to be convenient and not that expensive,” Harding said. “That’s the hard thing to break. Our families are so busy. It’s much easier to get a pizza when you’re running to a ball game than it is to prepare a meal and eat together. There’s lots and lots of different aspects to it. If you get into the rural areas of Loudon County and once you get into Greenback and Philadelphia, where are you going to find a grocery store? If you have limited transportation, that’s a big problem for folks.”