A food truck vendor that Healthy Memphis contracted for an 800-person 2012 holiday party it arranged on behalf of Leadership Memphis ended up modifying his recipes after Healthy Memphis' dietitians revealed the caloric and nutritional values of what he was serving.
"We're trying to establish a practice," says Connie Binkowitz, Healthy Memphis' manager of equity and neighborhood transformation. "It's to jar people enough for them to begin to think, 'Oh, I didn't even know that' and, from there, to make adjustments."
In addition to those vendors, Frazier and Binkowitz cite the activities of such grass-roots players as retired corporate cost-accountant Adonna Collins, 77, a full-time volunteer who donates time to, among others, Healthy Memphis.
For a nonrelated charity fundraiser this Christmas, Collins is replacing the refined sugar and some of the water in her tried-and-true recipe for strawberry cake with frozen strawberries sweetened artificially and selling that version. She once enlisted fellow shoppers' help in a successful yearlong bid to get the Kroger store where she has been shopping since 1961 to re-stock its shelves with fruit canned in natural juices instead of high-fructose corn syrup.
She has dropped 40 pounds from a 5-foot-3-inch frame that carried 238.6 pounds at its peak. Her goal? "Skinny," she says, then guffaws. "Or, really, 130 pounds, which, on me, really isn't skinny. ... Mainly, I'm determined to feel good -- and even now, I tend to feel good -- and to share what I've learned about the glycemic index and so on."
Broadly speaking, that's an apt communal approach, says the Rev. Dr. Scott Morris, the physician-founder of Church Health Center Wellness, which operates pay-what-you-reasonably-can medical clinics for the uninsured and working poor and similarly priced memberships to its two-story, state-of-the-art gym, 10 minutes' drive from downtown Memphis.
Every member gets a monthly consultation with a trainer and nutritionist at Church Health, where blood pressure gauges are on the gym floor. Center staffers run the tests and keep files of members' fitness trajectories.
"We expect the people to work this program," says Morris, a family practitioner and pastor of Memphis' St. John's United Methodist Church. "This is not a place to come and get on the treadmill with your headphones on. There are probably 10 people here at this very moment who weigh 300 pounds. ... We also probably have more success stories than I can count."
Church Health has a mind-body-spirit ethos, says Morris, the doctor who diagnosed Henley's diabetes. It considers the everyday financial, social and cultural concerns that can and sometimes do factor into obesity.
Collectively, the Henley clan has dropped 97 pounds thus far. (Henley's youngest daughter, a college freshman, leads the pack, shedding 50 pounds. At 5 feet 8 inches tall, she used to weigh 230 pounds.)
"The data shows that Memphis is one of the most obese cities in the nation. When I look around, I see that. I saw it on myself," Henley says.
"Even now, I'm still overweight and I'm still working at this. ... We saw what could happen within our own family, then we took it to our church, to other churches. The Bible says 'People perish for lack of knowledge.' Sometimes we're just ignorant to things. ... That ignorance is part of what we're trying to change."