The wellness program participants laughed when Betty Williams said she wanted more dressing and cheese for her salad, but when she sang to give thanks for better health she was so overcome with emotion that she cried.
"I don't take my diabetes pill any more," Ms. Williams said. "I thank you. My blood sugar never goes above 200 any more. Thank you, sir."
Her testimony was like that of many of the 89 women who strutted to the microphone at a celebration dinner this month, swinging their hips and high-fiving friends as they walked. They met at Memorial Hospital to celebrate their participation in exercise classes for at least three months through East Chattanooga Weed and Seed's wellness program.
The exercisers lost a total of 256 pounds.
"I feel good. I'm not kidding," said Ms. Williams, a 65-year-old grandmother and child care center teacher.
Some women, including Mildred Moreland and Brenda Locklin, announced they could wear smaller jeans. Others, like Emma Wilkerson, talked about having more energy and discovering they could do more tasks. And Jeffery Pryd, the only man in the bunch, was the group's biggest loser after dropping 15 pounds in three months.
Memorial Hospital's Liz Jenkins wrote a grant that netted $3,800 from Catholic Health Initiative to start the East Chattanooga Weed and Seed wellness program. The goal was to alleviate high rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension in East Chattanooga, she said.
East Chattanooga Weed and Seed, a nonprofit organization, is funded by a $1 million federal grant from the U.S. Justice Department. The goal is to weed out crime in the East Chattanooga area while seeding programs to improve quality of life in the area.
Exercise classes are offered at Avondale Recreation Center on Mondays and Thursdays and at the Carver Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
BY THE NUMBERS
* 68 percent: Adults who are overweight or obese in East Chattanooga
* 60 percent: Adults overweight in Hamilton County
* 13 percent: Adults with diabetes in East Chattanooga
* 10 percent: Adults with diabetes in Hamilton County
* 43 percent: Adults with high blood pressure in East Chattanooga
* 25 percent: Adults with high blood pressure countywide
Source: Kasey Decosimo, health planner with the local health department
The East Chattanooga Weed and Seed wellness program is open to anyone. Exercise classes are taught at Avondale Center and at Carver Center. Call 752-4449 to sign up and get times for the classes.
The goal is to have classes at all four East Chattanooga recreation centers before summer's end, said Monica Burke, Weed and Seed program manager.
Nearly half of the adults in East Chattanooga have high blood pressure, said Kasey Decosimo, a health planner with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department. About 68 percent of the area's adults are obese or overweight, and about 13 percent of them have diabetes, she said.
The East Chattanooga community has the highest rate of hypertension in the county, said Mrs. Moreland, a registered nurse and chairwoman of the East Chattanooga Weed and Seed health committee.
Many community residents have a history of eating high-fat foods that cause health risks, but the exercise participants say they are learning more about nutrition to help them overcome and change their health habits.
"I got in this class, and I'm going to continue in it," Ms. Williams said.
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