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Symposium speakers urge community to work together to fight childhood obesity

April 15th, 2012 10:49 pm by staff report

KINGSPORT — Coming together to bring about positive change was one of the key themes at the third annual HEAL (Healthy Eating, Active Living) Appalachia Obesity Symposium, held last Thursday at the MeadowView Marriott Conference Resort and Convention Center.

Grant winners announced at the conference included the Kingsport and Rogersville school systems, as well as Sullivan County’s Bluff City Middle School.

The event brought together nearly 300 people from Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to hear national experts speak and to exchange ideas about how to battle childhood obesity.

John Bilderback, project director for Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities in Chattanooga, gave a case study of how residents in struggling sections of that city made a difference by taking ownership of improvement efforts in their community. Then, using demographic information showing higher-poverty areas in Johnson City, Bilderback showed how some of the same opportunities exist in this area.

He finished by challenging the crowd to make the same kind of difference here that’s happening in Chattanooga.

Keynote speaker Dr. Marcus Robinson talked about community building based on his work with the Consortium for Community Development in the economically distressed city of Benton Harbor, Mich., while fellow speaker Pastor James Cantrell told listeners about the success of the Cincinnati-based Health Leadership Institute for Faith-Based Organizations, and how faith and health are connected.

With so many factors contributing to childhood obesity — poverty, lack of education, lack of infrastructure, the difficulty of culture change — the symposium speakers echoed the need for working together to bring about change.

Gary Earl, nationally known inspirational speaker and innovator, served as emcee for the symposium.

“Everybody has a role,” Earl said. “It’s not about any particular group but about the community and the issue. And childhood obesity is an issue. It’s related to every single thing we do.

“Today’s just the start. I don’t know if we’ve healed Appalachia, but we’re on the way.”

The 2012 HEAL Appalachia Community Grant recipients were also announced at the symposium. The HEAL Appalachia grant program is a joint effort between Mountain States Health Alliance and East Tennessee State University.

It provides “micro grants” of $2,000 and $5,000 to groups that come up with practical ways to address childhood obesity and improve the health of children within their spheres of influence.

Nineteen grants were awarded this year to community organizations, schools and faith organizations across the region. The winners are:

• $2,000 grantees Bluff City Middle School, Boys and Girls Club of Greeneville and Greene County, Bristol Virginia Middle School, Carver Recreation Center, David Crockett High School, ETSU, Girls on the Run of Northeast Tennessee, Haysi High School, Highlands Community Services, Jonesborough Farmers Market, Kingsport City Schools School Nutrition Services, Rogersville City Schools, St. Charles Health Council Inc., Unaka Elementary School, and Washington County Coordinated School Health.

• $5,000 grantees Abingdon Farmers Market/Appalachian Sustainable Development, Clinch Valley Community Action, Learn Today Lead Tomorrow Inc., and Mountain Empire Older Citizens Inc.

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