By Dr. William H. Frist
I like to keep an eye on my hometown’s statistics. I love seeing Nashville listed among the nation’s best cities to launch a startup, raise a family and visit for a weekend away. According to some estimates, we gain 80 new Nashvillians each day, transplants from all over, drawn to our welcoming atmosphere and our healthy business environment.
But for many of Nashville’s residents, “healthy” is not an apt descriptor. I’ve been closely watching these numbers, too. Nashville’s citizens have some of the worst health outcomes on a national and global level. Tennessee is one of the unhealthiest states in the country: 45th out of 50. And Davidson County ranks 22nd out of Tennessee’s 95 counties for health factors, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings.
In Nashville, more than 30 percent of adults are obese, and 36 percent — one in three! — of our school children is obese. More than 20 percent of our population smokes. Heart disease is the county’s leading cause of death, and our infant mortality rates rank among the highest in the state and below that of countries with much lower standards of living.
A closer look reveals alarming health disparities among neighborhoods within close proximity. The simple truth is our ZIP codes are more powerful predictors of life expectancy than our genetics. Social determinants like local environment, education, diet and culture can play a huge role in how long and how well we live, more so than our medical care.
Nashville is also not on par with its peer cities. According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, compared with Austin, Charlotte, Richmond and Raleigh, Nashville ranks fifth in the group of competitive cities. These are the numbers that companies consult when choosing where to set up businesses or expand current offerings. Frankly, we have no choice but to make changes.
Without transformation, our citizens’ health will deteriorate. And as a community, we could lose $10 billion to $20 billion over the next decade in health care costs and a less productive workforce, making it more expensive to live, raise families or operate a business. Already, Nashville has clinicians and public health leaders dedicated to turning this tide. But our city is large and our problems are complicated.
To address these challenges, I am launching NashvilleHealth to create a comprehensive and bold, community-supported culture of health equity in Nashville. NashvilleHealth will serve as a county-wide convener to open dialogue, align resources and build smart strategic partnerships to create a plan for health unique to Nashville’s needs, leveraging the rich resources of our city and region.
We seek to bring together a diverse coalition of community, business and faith leaders, clinicians, academic partners and government policymakers to set priorities and shared objectives, and determine a plan of action to address the most pressing issues. Importantly, the collaborative will actively measure and monitor progress to ensure success of execution.
The overall health of our population is poor and, if left unaddressed, threatens our long-term vitality. To ensure that Nashville continues to grow and thrive, we must create a bold culture of health equity that is supported by the entire community. Through NashvilleHealth, together we will create meaningful change in the health of our people and our city. But for this initiative to be a success, we need your help.
Dr. Frist is a heart and lung transplant surgeon, former U.S. Senate majority leader, chairman of the executive board of health service private-equity firm Cressey & Co., and founder of NashvilleHealth.
Photo of Frist with Caroline Young, NashvilleHealth’s executive director, by Eric England
NashvilleHealth creates a culture of health and wellbeing by serving as a convener to open dialogue, align resources and build smart strategic partnerships to create a bold plan for health and wellbeing in Nashville.Check out our latest newsletter
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