Healthy Kingsport offers tips for combating high obesity rate in Tennessee

Holly Viers • Sep 19, 2017 at 6:00 PM

KINGSPORT — In Tennessee, 37.7 percent of children ages 10-17 are considered either overweight or obese, according to 2016 data published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

This is not only the highest rate of any state in the country; it’s also well above the national average, which is 31.2 percent.

Kandy Childress, executive director of Healthy Kingsport, said obesity is not only a problem across the state as a whole; it’s also one of the biggest health concerns facing this region. To help parents combat this problem, Childress shared her tips for helping children eat healthier and get more exercise.


Engage in doable physical activity

“We have a region here that’s an outdoor mecca in terms of hiking, biking and scenic trails that you can walk on; those are all things that a family can do together, and they’re not too strenuous,” Childress said. “Kids don’t like being pushed to the limit, in general. They like something where they can just go at their pace and really feel good afterwards, and I think parents like that, too. So if they can create an environment where the family spends some of that time together — maybe it’s a Saturday every week or it’s a nightly walk around the block or something like that — that’s really important.”

Limit screen time

“The recommendation is 150 minutes of physical activity each week; that equates to about 30 minutes a day,” Childress said. “You look at that and say, ‘Could I build 30 minutes a day into my child’s routine somehow, or encourage that if they’re a teenager?’ They’ve got seven hours a day, on average, of screen time, so there’s certainly room to open up and find that time.”

Develop lifelong habits

“Seventy percent of obese teens turn into obese adults, so you’ve got to get those (healthy) habits formed early,” Childress said. “It’s much easier if you are at a place where you are pretty healthy to move up that pinnacle and get healthier than if you’re in the lower rungs of the healthy category, and you have to really struggle and work hard to get healthier over time.”


Focus on overall health, not weight

“I think a lot of parents really try to be proactive and help their kids, but they focus too much on the actual number,” Childress said. “It’s really more of, is the child healthy overall? Do they have the right nutrition and the right number of physical activity minutes incorporated into their day?”

Buy, prepare and serve healthy food

“That really requires some planning and preparation on parents’ parts, because that means eating at home more than eating out,” Childress said. “Lots of studies show that it’s a much healthier meal at home versus eating out.”

Practice “smart swaps”

“For example, kids drink a lot of their calories; one soda has the daily amount of recommended added sugar in someone’s diet, as well as about 250 calories,” Childress said. “So parents can focus on swapping those out for diet soda or vitamin water or just water, ultimately. … It’s not taking away the things that the kids have come to know and love and have become part of their routine; it’s swapping them out and ultimately getting them, over time, to the best choice.”

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