Memphis childhood obesity rates on the rise

Children participate in activities in an attempt to learn the value of eating healthy.

By Brady Boswell and Anthony Copeland

One community garden in Memphis are reaching out to younger generations in Memphis in an attempt to decrease the slowly rising statistic of childhood obesity within the Midsouth.

Theo Davies of Knowledge Quest, a Memphis organization that works to create healthy communities through education and outreach, has grown fresh fruits and vegetables within the organization in hope that children and even adults can learn the importance of a balanced diet.

“The kids that come out to the garden are always excited to see things that they can eat being grown,” Davies said. “They’ll sometimes sneak over the fence and steal carrots because they’d rather eat something nutritious, which is perfectly fine because at the very least they’re eating healthy.”

Explaining how obesity is detrimental to a person’s health is like beating a dead horse, however when a child is inflicted by the disorder, questions will arise. A study released by The State of Obesity states that childhood obesity is on the rise in Tennessee and more specifically the Midsouth.

According to the State of Obesity website, Childhood obesity rates have remained at around 17 percent for the past decade in the US. In Tennessee, more specifically the average obesity rate for children ages 10 to 17 is roughly anywhere from 20 to 24.9 percent.

Another report by the data gathering website, Gallup, put Memphis as the most obese community, which included adults as well. Memphis had an obesity rate of 31.3 percent.

“I used to be that kid,” Landon Jividen, a former victim of childhood obesity, said. “I grew up in the outskirts of Memphis where the norm was either fast food or something entirely diabetic. Making the switch was challenging, but I lost a ton of weight and will never go back.”

Aspiring to be a body-builder, Jividen says that if one truly wants to make the switch one has to take the necessary steps by eating healthy and practicing consistent physical activity, whether it be through the gym or healthy food choices.

Christian Huls who is a personal nutritionist and owner of StraightForwardFitness helps teach children through physical activity the importance of being mindful of their health.

“There’s no such thing as leftovers,” Cabrina Starks, a Knowledge Quest student, said.

“The obesity problem in Tennessee, more specifically in Memphis, is alarming,” Huls said. “I’ve worked with obese parents and children, and the only way to fix it is through proper training and experience, which a lot of individuals in Memphis don’t ever get.”

According to Huls, without proper nutritional guidance and access to food sources other than fast food, children are more prone to fall subject to obesity.

 “These numbers don’t surprise me,” Huls said. “Not only does a large portion of Memphis not have access to healthy food options, but also we live in an area that prides itself on heavily greasy food.”

Childhood obesity is worse in Memphis than in other parts of the country, according to Kala Wilson of Knowledge Quest.

“Knowledge Quest makes it their mission to build a stronger community by building the people that live within that community even if that means decreasing obesity in our communities by providing local gardens and healthy food options where there are none,” Wilson said. Wilson also adds that food deserts in the Memphis area are one of the main reasons why access to fresh food is limited.

Food deserts are defined as an urban area where it’s difficult to buy affordable, fresh food. The United States Department of Agriculture provides a detailed map of food deserts in Memphis that don’t have access to proper super or farmer’s markets within a 1 to 10 mile radius. Roughly more than 75 percent of the South Memphis is a food desert. 

The community of South Memphis has five high schools, five middle schools, and seven elementary schools.  According to the Urban Child Institute, 2,500 children reside in this urban food desert.

Yolanda Manning of Green Leaf Learning Farm, a program of Knowledge Quest, said there are practically zero healthy food options in South Memphis apart from her organization’s garden.

The Green Leaf Learning Farm, which is a program of Knowledge Quest, is a USDA-certified organic farm in the center of South Memphis, and their goal is to educate students about urban agriculture and healthy eating.

“We want to eliminate food deserts within Memphis starting with South Memphis,” Manning said. “The obesity issue in our community needs to be handled, but that can only be accomplished by teaching the younger generations how to make conscious, healthy decisions.”

Jackson distributes salad bowls out to the children of Knowledge Quest.

Childhood obesity is slowly but steadily increasing in Memphis, yet other cities like Denver, Colorado have the lowest obesity rate not only in children but also adults. The fix lies in what does each city offer in terms of wellness. The city of Denver offers a multitude of community outreach programs that encompass physical activity, healthy foods and growth.

“There are other cities out there that do way better of a job promoting healthy choices than Memphis,” Manning said. “Until we offer more opportunities for these children to prosper in terms of better food choices, we won’t ever see a change.”

According to Davies and Manning, they both agree that the change begins at home.

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