PHOTO: Richard Johnson, CEO of the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness, speaks at a healthcare roundtable at Nissan’s North American headquarters on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018./Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
A statewide health coalition revealed data at a Franklin roundtable for Davidson and Williamson Counties, which hold high rankings in a state often lagging behind in health outcomes.
On Tuesday morning, three dozen health and community leaders gathered inside Nissan’s North American headquarters to hear results from a health and economic impact study done by the Sycamore Institute.
Hosted by the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness, the hour-long health roundtable addressed chronic diseases, drivers of health, and how to incentivize healthier behaviors.
Scott Becker, a senior executive at Nissan welcomed the group and recognized leaders of Healthier Tennessee, a citizen-led movement begun in 2013 to encourage healthier behaviors.
Similar conferences have been held in Knoxville, Kingsport and Jackson.
But unlike those places, Williamson County ranks number one in the state for healthy behaviors, while Davidson is number six.
Richard Johnson, the CEO of the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness, said the country is experiencing a crisis of health, with not enough movement and too much indulgence in unhealthy foods and tobacco products.
Tennessee is consistently ranked among the bottom ten states for health rankings. Recently, Tennessee was named the worst state for childhood obesity.
Nearly 70 percent of adults, Johnson said, are overweight or obese.
“That’s the bad news, but the good news is those are all things that are solvable,” Johnson said. “It’s really a crisis brought on by the way we live our lives.”
To combat the crisis, Johnson said the governor’s foundation created a three-phase plan; raising awareness, providing tools to make healthier decisions, and a grassroots community effort to improve health outcomes.
Healthier Tennessee communities, campuses, and neighborhoods in the metropolitan parts of the state have been built
“We’ve made incremental improvement,” Johnson said, in smoking and obesity, and seen a slight decrease in physical activity.
“In total, candidly and frankly, we’re not that different than where we were five years ago,” he admitted.
“Health is one of the biggest issues facing our next governor,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in a video at the presentation’s beginning.
Unlike the connection often made between education and economics, Johnson said the connection between health and the economy is rarely noted.
“Our poor health is costing us dearly,” he said, pointing to chronic health concerns and the resulting financial losses.
Laura Berlind, the executive director of the Sycamore Institute, spoke on the data her organization had collected for the Nashville area.
The institute is an independent, nonpartisan public policy research center for Tennessee which focuses on health policy.
Nearly across the board, Tennesseans experience higher than average levels of diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
Berlind said 460,000 Tennesseans are affected by diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, with a resulting care cost of $5.3 billion total in 2015.
That’s the cost difference between Tennessee and the average state, Johnson added, more than the $4.6 billion spent on K-12 education.
For the 2018-2019 state budget, health accounts for 37 percent of the recommended state budget, while 46 percent was the most recent actual expenditure on healthcare.
Drivers of health include a four-year degree, low rates of unemployment, and per capita income. While state rates are lower than typical except in unemployment, Williamson County rates higher than most counties in the state across the spectrum.
Five of the state’s 10 healthiest counties are in the Middle Tennessee region, led by Williamson in first and Wilson County in second.
Franklin Mayor Dr. Ken Moore and Williamson, Inc. President and CEO Matt Largen attended the roundtable and participated in the subsequent discussion.
“We placed a lot of emphasis in Franklin on community design, making our communities more walkable,” Moore said.
Ted Cornelius, the vice president of health innovation for the YMCA, noted the importance of including the youth voice in health policy conversations.
“We’re talking about affecting a generation, and I need that generation to help me understand better,” he said.
“There is clearly a link between health and our economy in Williamson County,” Largen said. “There is a strong correlation between high educational attainment and economic dynamism, with healthy behaviors at the core.”
Moore also noted the business split in Franklin: while around five percent of companies are “the Nissans,” who have company wellness plans in place, the rest are small businesses.
“We need to be finding how we can drill down into those smaller businesses to see how we can help them make a program,” he said.