This one-day event each year, sponsored by the Polk County Health Council, is held for all of Polk County’s fourth-grade students. The students engage in various activities, exercises and quizzes in an effort to learn how to live a healthy lifestyle.
Tennessee Commissioner of Public Health Dr. John Drezyehner attended this year’s event. He presented a think healthy program of his own to Polk County teachers and parents attending Wednesday’s event. More than 250 turned out for the activities, including more than 150 students and a number of public health workers from Bradley County and other health departments.
“It was a day of fun, learning and outdoor activities,” said Bradley Health Department director Eloise Waters.
Polk County chef Clyde Rush, who attended culinary school in New York following his graduation from Polk County High School, provided teachers and parents with a cooking lesson on healthy foods and healthy eating. He briefly discussed food opportunities with Commissioner Drezyehner.
The students all progressed through a series of activities, which included events such as over-the-top slide, Tai Chi, movin’ and groovin’ on the basketball court, breathe easy exercises, blueberry bingo, bones and berries, portion distortion, over and around relays and my plate.
All of the activities are geared toward eating and living healthy.
With money donated by various Polk County industries, Donna Calhoun and Greg Paxton of the University of Tennessee Extension Office coordinated the day’s program.
Commissioner Drezyehner told the adults that they “may be the choir”, when preaching to students about healthy lifestyles. “You are the people interested in this,” he said.
He asked the group if they were recognizant of the fact that two-thirds of the people in Tennessee are overweight, “It’s an epidemic of obesity,” he continued. The commissioner then asked if the parents and teachers felt there was a reason for this epidemic, or several. He agreed with their assessment of many different causes of obesity.
Reasons the group came up with included depression, unhealthy foods, a lack of gardening, fewer farmers and even video games.
Dr. Drezyehner is in his eighth month of office, after being appointed state commissioner by Gov. Bill Haslam in September of 2011. “We serve all 95 counties and 89 of those counties have their own health department,” he said. “All are partners of ours,” the commission said of the statewide network.
Giving an example of the complexity and depth of the State Department of Health services, Drezyehner said, “We provide services to 900,000 people directly each year.”
The state commissioner was accompanied by staff member Leslie Humphreys and Southeast Region Director Glenn Czarnecki.
Czarnecki said he had talked with the commissioner briefly about the possibility of a plan for a new health department in Bradley County. He emphasized that outside Chattanooga, the Bradley facility is by far the largest in the region.
Czarnecki and Waters agree that the local office needs additional space for all the services offered.
While talking with adults at Wednesday’s Healthy Horizons, Commissioner Drezyehner spent considerable time explaining and going over details of the state department’s WIC program. This is the program which advocates breast feeding for new mothers.
“Two-thirds of our new mothers try breast-feeding, but only one in four nationally,” the commissioner said. “Part of our problems with obesity begin in infancy,” said Drezyehner. “Breast feeding can reduce this tendency, and well as others things,” he said.
Moving back to the issue of obesity, Commissioner Drezyehner said, “We live in a calorie-saturated environment. “Our species is here because we (over centuries) have maximized all our opportunities to eat. That’s why we are successful.”
He touched on the need of human beings for dopamines, a simple chemical that plays a number of important physiological roles in our body. He gave an example of packets of sugar, and how they release signals to other nerve cells to spark interest in the brain.
He said there are many types of dopamines which create needs. These include sugar, canned sodas, and even texting. He said this is the reason you eat more at a buffet, is because the more food choices you have, the more you eat.
“One of the main reasons for our obesity rate is that in the United States (in most cases) we have all we want to eat,” the commissioner pointed out. “Where once humans feasted whenever they could, we now feast three times a day.”
The commissioner said physical activities are not enough to maintain your weight. He said people need a combination of different activities. He said an ounce of fat has twice as many calories as an ounce of muscle.
“Your ancient brain will change the way you think about eating,” the commissioner said, adding that the brain will tempt you to eat as much as you can. “You have to trick your brain,” he said. “You want to keep things simple. Soda is a treat, not a hydraulic mechanism.”
In closing, the commissioner asked the adults to remember, “Sodas will add a pound a month, and you may not notice an additional pound,” he emphasized. “But, you will notice 12 pounds over a year, or 24 pounds over two years.”
The Polk County Health Council has been working on this year’s Healthy Horizons for months, with assistance from the Regional Health Office, Ocoee Regional Health, Polk County school system, local church leaders, the Adult Education Program and various service agencies in Polk and Bradley counties.
Wednesday’s activities began at 9 a.m. and continued into the afternoon at the 4-H facility on Highway 30.
Drezyehner stopped early Wednesday morning at the state’s regional offices in Chattanooga. He then continued to the Polk County Health Department for a brief visit, before joining activities at Healthy Horizons.