Ben Epperson, Program Manager, Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities

How much money is involved with the Robert Wood Johnson grant that funds Healthy Kids—and what’s the goal?

It’s $360,000, and my personal goal is to make Knoxville a healthier and happier place for kids. It’s a pretty open-ended grant; RWJ is trying to find any possible way for communities to gain access to policy change, but they have a rule against us doing specific programming.

What kind of policy change would you work for?

One might be, “New road construction must include bicycle lanes,” or establishing a budget for expanding public transportation. Public transportation is a huge way to keep communities healthier.

Any chance you’d want to increase school recess?

We couldn’t plan programs, but I can still try to change policy. I’m a huge supporter of unorganized play; I think it expands brain capacity, and more children will get active when they’re not being told how to do it.

Around half the kids in the target communities—Inskip, Lonsdale, and Mascot—are overweight or obese. Are they worse than most?

They’re just representative of the area. And they’re just our starting point; we’ll eventually reach all Knox County.

What’s going to be toughest?

Hoo! Coming in as an outsider advocate and trying to earn trust. Right now, I’m building relationships with schools, churches, daycares and rec centers, and a year from now I hope they’ll be in dialogue with policy makers.

How old are your own kids, and do you worry about them with the high childhood obesity rate around here?

My daughters are 1 and 3, and of course I worry; our culture is set against them.

Are you taking preventive measures?

We almost totally eliminate sweets at home. And we go outside every day: rain, snow, shine. And we don’t even own a stroller—they hoof it.

To give Healthy Kids input: ben.epperson@knoxcounty.org

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