Food Safety

Everything your child eats and drinks matters. The right mix of nutritional foods not only helps children perform well in school, it can lead to a lifetime of better health. Spencer Taylor from Metro Nashville Public Schools’ Department of Nutrition Services joined us on a recent episode of Community Health Matters to discuss student nutrition. View his segment here.

Getting a child to eat healthy foods can be a challenge, but studies show a proper diet makes a world of difference. Well-nourished students are proven to have higher test scores, increased school attendance, and improved concentration and classroom behavior. Additionally, students who are physically fit sleep better and are more equipped to handle the physical and emotional challenges they may encounter during the day.

That’s why Metro Schools’ Nutrition Services works diligently to plan menus consistent with the New Meal Pattern established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Dietary Guidelines for all Americans. These meals include foods that are low in fat, calories and sugars, and high in fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and whole grains.

The best way parents can help their kids eat healthy is to provide a nutritious breakfast and healthy snacks they can nibble on throughout the day. And if breakfast is not an option at home, all Metro Schools offer breakfast for every student.

No child should be concerned about hunger. They should be focused on learning. Set your child up for success by understanding the importance of healthy eating and the building blocks of balanced meals at

Food Safety

The federal government estimates there are about 48 million cases of food poisoning annually — the equivalent of sickening one in six Americans. Now that summer is upon us, Danny Ripley from the Metro Public Health Department joined us on a recent episode of Community Health Matters to discuss safe outdoor eating practices for picnicking and grilling. View his segment here.

Not only can food poisoning be a painful annoyance and ruin your warm weather fun, it can be an extremely serious medical emergency. Each year illnesses due to food poisoning result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

According to the Metro Public Health Department’s Food Division, the two biggest dangers to backyard chefs and picnic packers are potential cross-contamination and poor temperature control. These can be avoided through safe food handling practices such as washing your hands for 20 seconds before and after cooking, cleaning work areas and utensils, and cooking and storing foods at the correct temperature.

A few outdoor grilling rules of thumb include:

  • Wash hands or use hand sanitizer
  • Clean utensils and equipment
  • Cook food thoroughly
  • Store raw meat in a cooler; remove only the amount needed
  • Place grilled foods on a clean plate

A cook’s best friend is a thermometer. A few examples of proper cooking temperatures for different kinds of foods include:

  • Poultry: 165° F
  • Ground beef: 160° F
  • Pork: 155° F
  • Beef steak: 140° F
  • Prime rib: 130° F

For picnickers, foods most susceptible to contamination are those with high protein and high moisture content. But it’s important to remember any food can become contaminated. Food can sit out at any temperature for up to four hours, provided it is discarded afterwards. If you would like to keep the food for future consumption, only two hours is recommended.

A few handy food storage tips are:

  • Hot foods should be stored at 140° F
  • Cold foods should be kept below 41° F
  • Store chilled foods in shallow containers

If you’re ever uncertain whether food is safe, remember “when in doubt, throw it out.” For more information, visit

Did you know the next generation of seniors is predicted to have 25 percent higher prevalence of obesity and 55 percent higher prevalence of diabetes? United Healthcare’s Dr. Karen Cassidy joined us on a recent episode of Community Health Matters to discuss important findings from America’s Health Rankings and its 2016 Senior Report, and how we can use them to take small steps toward better health. View her interview here.

America’s Health Rankings is the longest-running annual assessment of the nation’s health on a state-by-state basis. It is an actionable report that gives a holistic view of the nation and allows each state to see areas of opportunity for improving the health of its citizens. America’s Health Rankings is the result of a partnership between the United Health Foundation and other organizations.
The Senior Report focuses on the health of older Americans – and serves to drive individuals and organizations to take action to improve senior health. It analyzes 35 individual measures of health, such as smoking rates, prevalence of diabetes, obesity rates, availability of physicians, food insecurity and flu vaccination coverage.

Tennessee’s overall rank for 2016 is 43 out of the 50 states, which is an improvement of one place compared to last year’s senior health rankings. The report also illuminates many Tennessee-specific measures where our state excels and where it needs to improve.

The positive:

  • Low prevalence of excessive drinking (No. 1 in the nation)
  • A significant improvement in the obesity rate of our seniors (No. 5 in the nation, up from No. 34 last year)
  • High vaccination coverage (No. 6)

The negative:

  • High prevalence of smoking (No. 49)
  • High prevalence of frequent mental distress (No. 49)
  • High rate of food insecurity (No. 46) and limited availability of home-delivered meals (No. 48)

Looking to the future, this year’s Senior Report examined middle-aged Americans who will become seniors over the next 14 years and how their health challenges will impact our future senior population. In comparing today’s middle-aged population to their peers of 1999, it revealed the senior population of 2030 will:

  • Smoke 50% less
  • Have 54% increased prevalence of diabetes; and
  • 25% increased prevalence of obesity

Based on these finding, the report shows us we need to focus on weight by eating balanced, nutritious diets and being as physically active as possible. There is a direct correlation between preventable chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and certain types of cancer. Also, we need to create a sense of community for our seniors to combat the growing prevalence of mental health issues.

If you would like to view the America’s Health Rankings reports in their entirety, visit If you’re looking for a great resource for improving the health of yourself and your family, visit the state’s Healthier Tennessee website at

Childhood Nutrition

Can’t get your children to stomach anything leafy or green?  In Tennessee, more than 20 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds are obese. McKel Hill, a registered dietician and nutrition coach, joined us on a recent episode of Community Healthy Matters to discuss how to change this statistic and make healthy food fun for your kids. View her entire interview here.

Tennessee has the 14th highest adult obesity rate in the nation. By teaching your child healthy eating habits, you can help them live healthier lives now and into adulthood.

The key to a well-balanced diet is a focus on whole foods such as fruits, vegetable, nuts, seeds and legumes. Whenever possible, prepare ahead of time and always have healthy food on hand. For example, McKel described the ideal child’s lunch as half an avocado with lime and sea salt, a protein such as chicken or beans, veggies like carrot sticks or celery, carbohydrates such as oatmeal or a sweet potato, and a beverage of water or tea.

Certain foods are pivotal for childhood development. Calcium and phosphorus benefit developing teeth, omega-3 fatty acids found in tuna and salmon are vital for brain development, and the probiotics in yogurt and fermented vegetables support intestinal health and the immune system.

Having trouble getting your kid to eat healthy foods? Thirteen to 22 percent of children are reported to be picky eaters. Try to avoid refined sugars, processed food, soda and candy, substituting healthier options. A few alternatives Mckel suggests are butternut squash instead of macaroni and cheese and a dark chocolate avocado mousse rather than ice cream.

The easiest way to sneak veggies into your child’s diet? Smoothies! A simple, delicious treat for breakfast, lunch or snack, smoothies can contain any fruit or vegetable of your choosing. Just avoid any unnecessary sugars or sweeteners!

Remember: healthy eating is a lifestyle, not a diet, so it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. She suggests eating nutrient-dense foods 80 percent of the time, then allowing 20 percent for splurges like chocolate, pizza or candy.

Creating a positive relationship with food now will establish good eating behaviors throughout your child’s life. For more information on healthy eating, visit

As CEO of United Healthcare Community Plan of Tennessee, Rita Johnson-Mills is passionate about improving the health of underserved communities in Tennessee. As a recent guest on Community Health Matters, she discussed Fre$h Savings, a program dedicated to helping low-income seniors purchase more fresh, healthy foods. View her segment here.

More than 10 million older Americans struggle with food insecurity every day. Good nutrition – including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables – is vital for good health. Compared to food secure seniors, food insecure seniors are 60 percent more likely to experience depression, and more than 50 percent more likely to report a heart attack or to develop asthma.

Hunger is a serious, widespread issue in Tennessee specifically. Our state ranks 47 out of 50 in terms of food insecurity among the elderly, and 46 out of 50 for diabetes. Spearheaded by the AARP Foundation, Fre$h Savings aims to change this statistic. It is designed to help low-income seniors and other Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients buy fresh, healthy food, but without a hefty price tag.

In Middle Tennessee, we have several participating farmer’s markets in Davison and Rutherford Counties. At these farmer’s markets, SNAP shoppers who spend up to $10 receive the same amount back in tokens to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables. Just look for the Fresh Savings Booth at these locations:

fresh savings


Luckily for Tennessee residents, the program has already been embraced here in the Volunteer State. Nationally, coupon redemption rates range from five to 10 percent while in our state, it ranges from 10 to 15 percent.

If you are interested in your eligibility for the SNAP program, you can apply at your local Department of Human Services office. To learn more about Fre$h Savings, visit

Rita Johnson-Mills from UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee discusses Fresh Savings, a new program to help seniors shop smarter and eat healthier.

June is Cataract Awareness Month, Dr. Rebecca Taylor from Nashville Vision Associates and the American Academy of Ophthalmology discusses Cataracts – what they are, how they’re detected and treated, and overall eye health.

June is National Safety Month. Josh Landrum from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency talks about boating and water safety.

May’s topics include breast cancer research, staying active as you age, and vaccines for measles and other preventable diseases.

Research into the causes, prevention and treatment of breast cancer is being done in many medical centers throughout the world, including right here in Middle Tennessee. Patty Harman of Komen Greater Nashville and Dr. Deborah Lannigan from Vanderbilt University talks about current research into the causes of breast cancer.

As we age, it’s important to know how to live well, access services, and remain active and involved. Janet Jernigan of FiftyForward talks about how to continue to make the most of life from age 50 on.

Measles, a disease once considered eradicated in the U.S., has been making a comeback. In the first two months of 2015, 170 people from 17 states were reported to have been diagnosed with measles. State epidemiologist Dr. Tim Jones talks about vaccines for measles and other preventable diseases.

Did you know as a person gets older, certain parts of the brain actually shrink?

Including areas important to learning, memory, planning and other complex tasks. Older adults can take action to help preserve a healthy brain as they age. Regular exercise and physical activity, a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables, and engaging in intellectually stimulating activities improved brain health and provides other benefits from overall healthier living. For more information on maintaining a healthy brain as you age, visit

As we age, it’s important to know how to live well, access services, and remain active and involved. Janet Jernigan of FiftyForward talks about how to continue to make the most of life from age 50 on.

Did you know children who are overweight or obese as preschoolers are five times as likely as normal-weight children to be overweight or obese as adults?

Obese children are more likely to become obese adults and suffer lifelong physical and mental health problems as a result. Ask your pediatrician about community resources that promote healthy eating and active living, and set a good example by modeling healthy behaviors for your kids.