September 23, 2010

VU to play key role in state’s anti-obesity efforts

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Joe Thompson, M.D., of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, makes a point during a recent discussion about Tennessee’s new initiative to combat obesity. (photo by Jenny Mandeville)

VU to play key role in state’s anti-obesity efforts

As Tennessee launches an ambitious new five-year plan to halt obesity, Vanderbilt is poised to provide the scientific evidence crucial to moving the plan forward.

The initiative, entitled “Eat Well, Play More Tennessee: Tennessee Statewide Nutrition and Physical Activity Plan,” was launched Sept. 16 by Gov. Phil Bredesen at the annual meeting of the Tennessee Public Health Association in Franklin, Tenn.

The plan contains guides to help promote policies and laws to reach better health goals for Tennesseans.

But at the core of the plan is science.

“What we have learned is that rigorous science and solid evidence are essential to change hearts and minds, to drive policy change and our environment,” said Roger Cone, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Obesity and Metabolism (VIOM). “This partnering of policy and academics will speed the success of this effort.”

Joe Thompson, M.D., director of the Center for Childhood Obesity at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and Surgeon General of Arkansas, came to Nashville for the plan's launch.

Vanderbilt has grants from the RWJF to discover what works and what doesn't in helping at-risk families succeed in weight management.
Thompson encouraged scientists and clinicians to use their discoveries, leadership and experience to help drive policy efforts around obesity.

Joan Randall, M.P.H., administrative director of VIOM and current chair of the Tennessee Obesity Taskforce, has facilitated the statewide planning phase for Eat Well, Play More Tennessee and will facilitate implementation.

She says in today's environment of health care reform, legislators are asking scientists to show evidence that laws and policies can improve people's lives before they consider how they will vote on those policies.

“We have really succeeded in collaborating and applying best evidence to select successful programs all over the state and bring them together under this plan. More data is needed, however, to identify those programs that will have the most impact,” Randall said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided funding over the past two years to create Eat Well, Play More Tennessee. The CDC will continue to fund implementation over the next three years, focusing on policy and environmental change.

David Schlundt, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt University, is a key leader in the plan as well. Through partnership with the Tennessee Department of Health, Schlundt is building websites and collecting evidence from existing state surveys to create a baseline of information that goes back to 1997.

“The rate of increase in obesity in Tennessee has clearly outpaced the national rate of increase. We will continue to collect this evidence through 2012 to see if the rate of change flattens or slows in both children and adults,” Schlundt said.

Cone says the cost of obesity can no longer be ignored. Some estimates put the burden of the health costs of obesity at nearly $2,000 annually for every family in Tennessee in the form of higher health insurance costs.

“Vanderbilt has made a significant investment in supporting the effort to solve obesity. We have shown a commitment to making the latest scientific information available to policymakers and those involved in private and public efforts,” Cone said.

To download a copy of the Eat Well, Play More Tennessee plan, go to For further information or to become a strate-gic partner, contact Joan Randall at