Healthier Tennessee Neighborhoods taps Memphis for new health and wellness pilot program

With public health issues, like Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, reaching all-time highs in Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam has introduced Healthier Tennessee Neighborhoods, an urban health program.

As the pilot city, Memphis will be the first metropolitan area to take part. The initiative is part of the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Tennesseans lead healthier lives.

A quick look at some of the state’s basic health statistics reveals why. The obesity rate has risen to 33 percent. People considered overweight come in at the same figure. Meanwhile, one in four adults smoke. Following in their steps, one in five high school students are taking up the habit.

The Foundation encourages Tennesseans to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Part of that is through physical activity, with 30 minutes a day, five days a week as the benchmark. Additionally, it provides advice on a more nutritious diet and portion control. Tobacco use, of course, is discouraged.

Research shows that support is vital to people adopting and maintaining a healthier lifestyle – for individuals and the community.

Up until now, only smaller towns in the state have taken part.  The Healthier Tennessee Communities initiative is geared towards those municipalities.

“HTC was launched in 2015, with nine pilot communities across the state that formed local leadership committees and mobilized citizen participation to increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and reduce tobacco use by measurable amounts in their towns and counties. Today, HTC is in 97 communities across the state,” said Richard Johnson, CEO, Governor's Foundation for Health & Wellness.

The move to metropolitan areas is the next phase. The focus will be on resident-led health movements in urban neighborhoods.

Neighborhood Wellness Councils will be formed and led by a chairperson dubbed the wellness champion. kThrough regular meetings, the council will develop and put into practice a Neighborhood Wellness Plan that will encourage a healthier lifestyle.

“We are in the process of conducting focus groups around the city, getting feedback from residents about what kinds of healthy lifestyle initiatives they would like to see in their neighborhoods and how we can make HTN most impactful for them,” Regional Director for Healthier Tennessee Neighborhoods, Kerri Campbell, said.

Once those goals are achieved, the neighborhood will receive a Healthier Tennessee Neighborhood designation from the Governor’s Foundation. They will also receive public recognition from state and local officials.

“Our work is guided by the knowledge that healthier communities attract more employers and have improved employee performance; have lower incidences of chronic health conditions and reduced healthcare costs; and see improved academic performance and higher attendance rates in schools,” said Johnson.

Memphis - like a lot of communities in the state - has not fared well in health outcomes. Chronic diseases persist: diabetes, hypertension, obesity.

“We hope it’s a pathway over the long term to improve the culture of health in the city – one neighborhood at a time,” said Johnson.

Memphis is viewed as fertile ground for this type of program. People have a strong sense of belonging to their neighborhood. This makes it more likely for them to take part. Going neighborhood by neighborhood isn’t too far afield from introducing a program to a small community, either.

“It was partly that we had always, since we began the work four years ago, known that we wanted to take this approach in metropolitan areas. When FedEx stepped forward and said they would like to be a funding partner for an initiative that’s focused on Memphis, rather than the entire state, it gave us the greenlight to go ahead and do this first in Memphis,” added Johnson.

With funding clinched, Campbell was hired as Regional Director. FedEx committed $150,000 over the next three years. Any additional funding will come from the Foundation through public and private donations.

The last few months, Campbell has been out in the community. She has talked to stakeholders about the initiative. Some have backgrounds in community development, public health and philanthropy. The outreach will help with the selection of pilot neighborhoods. It will also help better serve their needs.

“I am conducting these focus groups in partnership with Emily Trenholm, Community Engagement Manager at High Ground News, and together we are making sure that we have the right people at the table to give us the feedback we need to develop and implement a successful pilot,” said Campbell.

Community partners for the focus groups include Binghampton CDC, Crosstown CDC, Klondike Smokey City CDC, Vollintine Evergreen Community Association, and The Works.

Once the pilot phase is completed, more neighborhoods will be approached.

“We hope to see a majority of neighborhoods in Memphis become involved and see them accomplish their measurable goals,” said Johnson.

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Read more articles by Kim and Jim Coleman.

Kim Coleman is a journalist with over 20 years of experience in newsrooms as a reporter, editor and graphic designer, including ten years with The Commercial Appeal as Design Director/Senior Editor and Print Planning Editor. 


Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.