The barbecue capital of the world has landed on the top of the list as the fattest city in America.
Yes, Memphis is the number one most obese large city – meaning a city with a population above a million people – in the nation.
Data from multiple government sources lead Wallethub, a personal finance website, to determine that 31.9 percent of the adults in Memphis are overweight. In addition to being ranked first for obesity, the Bluff City is at the top for physically inactive adults and second for number of adults with diabetes.
Dr. Scott Morris founded the Church Health Center in 1987 to combat the staggering statistics facing the city. At the time, Memphis was the poorest city in the country. Now Morris is working on helping Memphis shed some pounds. He said poverty is the first thing in the obesity epidemic that needs to be tackled.
“If you look on the list, the cities that are not on the list, Portland and Seattle, there is a direct correlation between education level and economic viability,” Morris said.
Morris is starting his crusade to change Memphians with children. The child care staff at the center have developed a book called the Alphabet Appetite. The book teaches 3 to 4 year olds the alphabet alongside foods they may not regularly see on their kitchen tables. The hope is that kids will start asking their parents for healthier food options.
In terms of statewide obesity, Tennessee landed seventh in the ranking at 31.3 percent with neighboring Mississippi falling into first at 35.4 percent.
The study used a fat-o-meter, more commonly known as a skinfold caliber test. The device measures the thickness of skin in various parts of the body including arms, legs and stomach to determine the fat percentage.
Along with the Church Health Center, a small diner just north of Sam Cooper Boulevard is looking to do more than provide food to the public. The Carritas Village restaurant took roots in Binghampton because of the rising obesity problem in the area. Like so many other neighborhoods in Memphis, low-income households can’t always keep nutritious food on the table.
Eli Towsend, chef and restaurant manager, said the restaurant uses local produce from gardens in the Binghampton area. This allows Towsend to know exactly where the vegetables are coming grown.
“It helps our patrons and our customers get the best quality food that is available,” Towsend said.
Organizers from the Shelby Farms Farmer’s Market pitch in, as well. Any food that is not sold is donated to the restaurant. Towsend said the donated food items help keep restaurant costs low.
“Our prices are specifically designed for people that live in this neighborhood,” Towsend said. “So that they are actually able to afford the food that we provide for them.”
Towsend is proud of the restaurant’s service to the community. “It allows people in the neighborhood to have a healthy option for food,” he said.
While non-profit groups are helping Memphis residents lose weight, personal trainer and nutritionist Matt Freeman said the city needs a broader city-wide approach.
“The city needs to be proactive and reach the parents,” Freeman said. “Teaching them what they are actually feeding their kids is step one. If a child goes home to two cheese burgers and a large soda, all that teaching was for nothing.”
Memphis Mirror staff writers Chrissy Rodefer and Gabrielle Washington also contributed to this story.