CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — From the inner cities to the countryside, communities throughout Tennessee are facing a big problem—an overweight and obese population.

To help combat this serious health issue, the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation, Inc. recently awarded more than $240,000 in initial grants to obesity initiatives run by the University of Tennessee (UT) Institute of Agriculture and the Tennessee Urban League Affiliates.

“More than 60 percent of Tennesseans are classified as overweight or obese,” said Beverly Cosley, manager of the Tennessee Health Foundation. “Obesity’s negative impact is not only felt by the individual in his quality of life, but it’s also felt in everyone’s wallet. That financial burden totaled $1.8 billion dollars in medical expenditures for adult obesity in Tennessee during 2003.”

The UT and Urban League obesity projects have goals of preventing weight gain by promoting physical activity and healthy diets. In addition, each seeks to find successful and replicable solutions that can be used in other Tennessee communities.

The Tennessee Shapes Up program run by UT will focus on Davidson, Sumner, Robertson, Cheatham and Wilson counties in Middle Tennessee. The Tennessee Health Foundation and several partner organizations are funding the $255,000 pilot, which will be able to deliver health messages through a variety of channels including face-to-face meetings, classroom instruction, media outlets and educational self-help materials.

“Tennessee Shapes Up is about moving, healthy eating and knowledge,” said Buddy Mitchell, interim vice president of the UT Institute of Agriculture. “Whether they’re on a farm in Sumner County or in a high-rise apartment in Nashville, the Tennessee Shapes Up program can give people of diverse backgrounds the skills to address their health and, in turn, help the state reverse its obesity problem.”

The Tennessee Urban League Affiliates will use a matching grant of $150,000 from the Tennessee Health Foundation for their Health Empowerment Initiative. The program targets low-income African-American women ages 18-35 in the state’s four largest urban areas: Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis. The program aims to prevent obesity with activities such as nutrition and cooking classes, educational outreach, group exercise activities and neighborhood competitions.

Warren E. Logan, Jr., president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga, states that up to 66 percent of African-American women in the United States can be classified as overweight.

“Obesity is a major factor in diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which disproportionately and negatively impact African-American families. By targeting our female population with the Sisters Together: Move More, Eat Better national weight management model, we can help stem the generational impact within the African-American community. This project is essential and needs the support of organizations like BlueCross’ Tennessee Health Foundation which understand that good health is truly a community matter,” Logan said.

According to Cosley, both projects demonstrate how the obesity problem crosses racial, economic and geographic lines.

“Whether you’re living in a rural community or in the city, and regardless of your race, weight management and good choices are imperative to your health and your finances,” Cosley said.

Obesity is one of the three major funding focuses for the Tennessee Health Foundation during 2005. Other areas of emphasis are the uninsured and minority health disparities.

Tennessee Health Foundation information and applications may be found at www.bcbst.com under the community relations link.

About Tennessee Health Foundation, Inc.

The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation, Inc. (THF) was established in December 2003 as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation organized to promote the philanthropic mission of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. THF awards grants focused on high-impact initiatives across the state, which promote healthy lifestyle choices and help control health care costs for all Tennessee residents. Working with civic and economic partners, THF is dedicated to the support of research, innovative programs and creative approaches to improve the health and quality of life of Tennesseans for generations to come.