Rick Johnson, left, president and CEO of the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness, and Gov. Bill Haslam talk with the press about the “Healthier Tennessee” initiative Thursday at the Toy Reid Eastman Employee Center. Photo by David Grace
KINGSPORT - Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday launched the Tri-Cities leg of “Healthier Tennessee,” an initiative to encourage Tennesseans to exercise, eat nutritious foods and not use tobacco products.
“One of the things we have to recognize about Tennessee is we’re not as healthy,” Haslam, a Republican, said at the launch event held at the Eastman Employee Center. “...A lot of the things where we’re at the wrong end of the spectrum are behavioral issues, things like hypertension, Type II diabetes and obesity.”
Tennessee was ranked 39th in overall health last year, up from 41st in 2011, according to americashealthrankings.org.
But the state was 44th in diabetes, 36th in smoking and 35th in obesity.
Tennessee’s strengths were in higher per capita public health funding and a moderate availability of primary care physicians.
The state’s challenges, however, included a high prevalence of sedentary lifestyle and high violent crime rate.
“It’s a direct reflection of the culture we have brought up in our state,” Haslam told a crowd filled with health care providers, Eastman employees and local government officials. “...We’re not asking folks to go run a marathon or become an Iron Man tri-athlete...We are asking them to move for 30 minutes a day, five days a week...The second thing is to look at their diet and make healthier choices...The final thing is to address tobacco usage.”
Haslam said the initiative will be led by the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness, a non-profit entity based in Nashville.
Rick Johnson, who has served as special assistant to the governor and as a health care executive, will be the foundation’s president and chief executive officer.
A statewide coalition made up of major employers, hospital systems, health insurers, YMCAs, local governments, school systems, and several healthcare-focused foundations and civic organizations will be part of the foundation’s effort.
Haslam said the Healthier Tennessee initiative will encourage support of common goals, consistent measurement and reporting of results, and the use of proven, best-practice programs and tools in workplaces, schools, places of worship, and in neighborhoods throughout the state.
Healthier Tennessee, according to a release on the initiative, will also include a rewards-and-recognition program for participation and achievement, plus a certification program for schools, workplaces, communities, and faith-based organizations.
Perry Stuckey III, Eastman Chemical Company’s senior vice president and chief human resources officer, will serve on the foundation’s 11-member board of directors.
“We put a lot of emphasis on wellness (at Eastman),” Stuckey said. “We do a health risk assessment. We have wellness coaches on our site...We even have different colors in our cafeteria to mark healthy food from unhealthy food.”
The initiative, according to Johnson, will receive $6.2 million in operating monies, with $5 million coming from tobacco settlement funds and the other $1.2 million coming out of the state budget.
Eastman Chairman and CEO Jim Rogers called wellness a “family issue” and praised Haslam for the initiative.
“Tennessee, in my humble opinion, has the number one team when it comes to making a state attractive and retaining jobs for the benefit of its citizens,” Rogers said. “I can tell you we’ve got the ‘A Team’ on the field when it comes to growth and jobs.”