Former New York City Health Commissioner and Hospital Leaders Launch Campaign to Fight Obesity and Diabetes in Appalachia


Kingsport, Tennessee – Dr. Thomas Farley joined the leaders of two health systems and other community leaders from the Tri-Cities region of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia today to kick off a campaign to reduce the area’s toll of obesity and diabetes. Under the slogan “Live Sugarfreed”, the campaign will encourage people to drink water instead of sugary beverages, using messages delivered through several media channels. Bart Hove, President and CEO of Wellmont Health System and Tony Keck, Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer of Mountain States Health Alliance, are supporting the campaign as part of their organizations’ commitment to not just treat people when they are sick, but help prevent disease in the region.  These health leaders were joined by Dr. Randy Wykoff, the Dean of the College of Public Health at the East Tennessee State University, Roger Mowen, Chairman of Healthy Kingsport, and representatives of the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society. 

While addressing health problems in the Tri-Cities, the campaign is also serving as a pilot project of A Healthy America, a movement using prevention and the power of the media to solve our nation’s greatest health problems. A Healthy America is led by The Public Good Projects, a new nonprofit organization of media, marketing, and public health experts, of which Dr. Farley is the Chief Executive Officer.

The Live Sugarfreed campaign will include a website and messages on television and social media that warn consumers about the risks of sugary drinks and encourage them to drink water instead.  At the launch event, Dr. Farley unveiled a 30-second video that delivered that idea powerfully by comparing the health risks of sugary drinks to those of cigarettes. Both cigarettes and sugary drinks increase the risk of heart disease, can lead to a condition that increases the risk of cancer, and can lead to tooth loss.

During the campaign, organizations will be asked to help their employees and members “Live Sugarfreed” by adopting policies that promote water consumption and discourage consumption of sugary drinks. The largest employers in the Tri-Cities region, Eastman Chemical and the two hospital systems, will set examples with healthy beverages policies in their workplace. The organizations that adopt healthy beverage policies will be given public recognition by the campaign.

Rates of obesity and diabetes continue to rise in the nation and in Tennessee. As of 2013, 34% of adults in Tennessee were obese; 68% were either obese or overweight, an increase from 50% in 1996. In 2013, one in eight adults reported that they had physician-diagnosed diabetes, a key driver of rising health care costs. 

While many factors contribute to obesity and diabetes, health experts across the country have focused on sugary drinks because they represent a large source of calories and the largest source of sugar in the American diet and because studies show a link between sugary drinks and both weight gain and diabetes. Drinking one or more 12-ounce sugary drinks per day increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 26%.

In a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among 18 states collecting survey data, Tennessee had the second-highest consumption of sugary drinks. In a survey of adults in the Tri-Cities region conducted by the campaign, adults age 18-45 reported drinking an average of 1.7 sugary drinks per day. One in seven (14%) drank four or more sugary drinks per day. 

“Wellmont welcomes this campaign because it aligns perfectly with our LiveWell initiative, which encourages people in our region to commit to important habits, such as healthy diets, and maintain proper cholesterol and blood sugar levels,” said Bart Hove. “Our diabetes program has also worked collaboratively with our hospitals to provide helpful information to patients about healthy foods and portion sizes. We’re proud to support Live Sugarfreed and work with others in the region to prevent illness.”

“Obesity and diabetes represent a public health crisis,” said Tony Keck. “We’re not going to solve that problem with medical care alone. It’s time to use all of the tools we have, including the power of the mass media, to address the unhealthy behaviors that are contributing to this problem.” 

“Much of what kills people today can be prevented if people don’t smoke, have a healthy diet, and are physically active,” said Dr. Farley. “Everyone needs reminders of that, and the most effective and cost-effective way to reach everyone is through the mass media.”

The Live Sugarfreed campaign is supported financially by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and the two hospital systems. “As a foundation that has been supporting innovations to curb the rising rates of type 2 diabetes through our Together on Diabetes™ initiative, we are proud to support the Live Sugarfreed campaign,” said Patricia Doykos, director, Bristol Myers-Squibb Foundation.  “Sugary drinks can contribute to obesity and diabetes, and we believe if people are educated about these risks, they will make healthier choices.”

“Diabetes isn’t curable, but much of it is preventable if we can reduce obesity rates,” said Dr. Randy Wykoff, the Dean of the College of Public Health at the East Tennessee State University. “And we can reverse the obesity epidemic by educating the public, by encouraging healthy behaviors, and by working with communities, health systems, elected officials, educators, and others to implement effective programs.”

 “Our economic survival as a region depends on our health,” said Roger Mowen, Chairman for Healthy Kingsport, which launched its own campaign in May 2015. “We’re excited to bring community leaders together to help make Live Sugarfreed a success. When workers, their children and their family members are healthier, it makes for a more productive and prosperous community.”

The Live Sugarfreed campaign was launched at the Kingsport Center for Higher Education in Kingsport, Tennessee.  Messages will be aired for approximately three months. The most important audience for the campaign is young adults, age 18-29, because they consume more sugary drinks than people in any age group, but other adults will also be reached by the messages, and the messages will discourage adults from providing sugary drinks to children. The effectiveness of the campaign will be evaluated with surveys of adults in the region.

More information about the campaign and the video are available at For media inquiries, please contact Anne Carlin at or 404-713-8602.