5 Tennessee Counties Take Steps to Improve Health

Jan. 17, 2018

5 tennessee counties highlighted on map

From Shelby to Sevier, 5 Tennessee counties take action

Good health makes a huge difference in a person’s quality of life. Genetics and environment play a part, but we have control over some of it. Eating well, exercising regularly and staying away from tobacco and drugs all contribute to longer life, and less risk of debilitating illness.

Unfortunately, Tennessee is one of the unhealthiest states in the country based on those metrics.

A quick look at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index shows that some of the biggest health issues in the state include hypertension, diabetes and substance abuse. Those conditions have an impact on quality of life, medical costs and life expectancy.

But Tennesseans are making strides to change. On both the state and community level, programs to educate and encourage healthier habits are taking hold. It will be a long process to turn things around, but many determined people are working to make it happen.

Here’s what’s happening in 5 Tennessee counties:

Shelby County

shelby county on Tennessee map

Top Health Condition Impact per BCBS Health Index: HYPERTENSION

  • 20% of adults smoke
  • 28% of adults are physically inactive
  • 33% of adults are obese

Health Index

Shelby County scores 0.920 in the BlueCross Health Index where 0.867 is less healthy and 0.970 is more healthy.  

For a detailed description of index calculations, click here.

Healthy Germantown

Germantown, a suburb of Memphis, decided to take action against the risk factors that lead to hypertension. Healthy Germantown promotes many programs to improve resident health habits.

  • A monthly public education and government TV show highlights healthy recipes, exercise advice, and events and health tips.
  • They built up participation in the statewide online step-counting competition Walk Across Tennessee by targeting three specific groups to compete: citizens, school classrooms and City of Germantown employees.
  • Local restaurants were encouraged to offer healthier menu options and free tobacco cessation help was made available.

Germantown was recognized by the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness as a Healthy Community, and those efforts are expanding to the rest of the county through Healthier Tennessee Neighborhoods. The program focuses on seven Memphis neighborhoods that will receive funds and guidance to develop plans to increase activity, improve diets and reduce tobacco use:

  • Binghamton
  • Crosstown
  • Klondike/Smokey City
  • Orange Mound
  • South Memphis
  • Uptown, and
  • Vollintine Evergreen.

Campbell County

campbell county tn

Top Health Condition Impact per BCBS Health Index: SUBSTANCE ABUSE

  • #3 in the nation for most opioid prescriptions
  • Overdose deaths quadrupled in just 3 years

Health Index

Campbell County scores 0.902 in the BlueCross Health Index where 0.867 is less healthy and 0.970 is more healthy.  

For a detailed description of index calculations, click here.

Prescription Drug Addiction

Through the Regional Roadmap program overseen by the Tennessee Institute of Public Health at East Tennessee State University, the county implemented the Generation RX program for students in grades 5-8 to learn about the dangers of prescription drugs.

Campbell County was also one of the first areas to implement the statewide expansion of Count It! Lock It! Drop It!, a communitywide program that educates people about prescription drugs and helps to take them out of circulation safely.


Bledsoe County

bledsoe county tn

Top Health Condition Impact per BCBS Health Index: HYPERTENSION

  • 24% of adults smoke
  • 33% of adults are obese
  • 36% of adults are physically inactive

Health Index

Bledsoe County scores 0.916 in the BlueCross Health Index where 0.867 is less healthy and 0.970 is more healthy.  

For a detailed description of index calculations, click here.

Better Bledsoe

Better Bledsoe, a community organization to promote better health habits, reached out to local employers, schools, civic groups and church groups to come together in a full-fledged campaign to promote a healthier lifestyle.

In addition to increasing physical activity and reducing smoking, Bledsoe County leaders wanted to find a way to encourage better eating habits. Multiple local groups worked together with the county and city of Pikeville to create and build the farmers market.

Once the infrastructure was in place, the market made full use of social media to promote events and get the word out to local farmers, vendors and shoppers. A Regional Roadmap grant was used to conduct healthy cooking classes, and regular prize drawings helped to draw residents to make visiting the market a habit.

By the end of its first season, 37 vendors had set up booths at the Pikesville Farmers Market and it was getting regular crowds.


Sevier County

sevier county tennessee on map

Top Health Condition Impact per BCBS Health Index: HYPERTENSION

  • 31% of adults are obese
  • 37% of adults have hypertension
  • 37% of adults are physically inactive

Health Index

Sevier County scores 0.916 in the BlueCross Health Index where 0.867 is less healthy and 0.970 is more healthy.  

For a detailed description of index calculations, click here.

Wellness at work

One of Sevier County’s major employers, the Sevier County Bank put a program in place to help their employees get healthier. They focused on finding activities that would appeal to many, such as hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or getting involved in fundraising run/walks, and was named a Healthy Workplace from the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness. The City of Sevierville also received that designation for its wellness initiatives that included quarterly fitness assessments.

Local groups joined in to focus on developing healthy lifestyle awareness for residents of all ages. A 16-week microclinic program at the Boys and Girls Club and the community center taught students about nutrition and the importance of physical activity for good health. Cooking demonstrations and healthy living tips were offered at the Farmers Market.


Humphreys County

humphreys county in tennessee

Top Health Condition Impact per BCBS Health Index: DIABETES

  • 14% of adults have diabetes
  • 32% of adults are physically inactive
  • 36% of adults are obese

Health Index

Humphreys County scores 0.913 in the BlueCross Health Index where 0.867 is less healthy and 0.970 is more healthy.  

For a detailed description of index calculations, click here.

Healthy eating

In 2014, the health situation in Humphreys County was so pronounced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded a grant to University of Tennessee Extension to promote better eating and exercise habits. At the time, it was one of four counties in the state with an adult obesity rate over 40 percent. Community leaders knew that things had to change.

Long-ingrained eating habits had to be turned around, along with the idea that eating healthy was expensive. But the will to get healthy was there, so change was possible. Healthier Humphreys was formed to help get the community moving in the right direction.

The McEwen Farmers Market always gets a lot of traffic, making it an ideal place to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables.

  • Cooking demonstrations showed shoppers how to prepare both familiar vegetables and some uncommon ones, such as the bulb-shaped, broccoli-like kohlrabi and Chinese food staple bok choy. Free samples and recipes were handed out
  • Competitions encourage people to walk, and
  • A free six-week program about managing chronic conditions (such as diabetes) and lectures about health issues (neonatal abstinence syndrome, breastfeeding, tobacco cessation) regularly draw crowds.

To learn more about diabetes in Tennessee, read the health brief.


Many counties in Tennessee have a long way to go to improve health, and real change will take years — or even decades.

People want to be healthy, but need the tools to make real change. Still, those on the front lines in the fight for better health see a change in attitude that is encouraging.

For a detailed example of how a community can work together to improve health, read about the success of Healthy Kingsport.

the Better Tennessee Long Live Kingsport cover

Click the photo above to read about Healthy Kingsport.


BCBS National Health Index

All top health impacts defined by the BCBS National Health Index. The index measures the impact of more than 200 common diseases and conditions on overall health and wellness by assigning each county in the United States a health metric between 0 and 1, designating the proportion of optimal health reached by the county’s population. For example, a measurement of .9 indicates that, on average, the population of a county is living at 90% of its optimal health. In other words, the county population could gain up to 10% in healthy lifespan by addressing the top health conditions impacting their area.

map of the state of Tennessee with counties in various colors

Click the map above to explore the BCBS Health Index.