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Report: Poor health hampering Tennessee's economy

The annual Tennessee economic outlook report submitted to the governor by UT experts notes the financial fitness of the state would benefit from improved health.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — An annual report by economic experts at the University of Tennessee claims the state's economy will continue to grow in 2020, but expect it to grow at a slower rate than recent years.

The report said although the economy is in good shape, it could be even stronger if the state of Tennessee was in better physical shape.

"Health is very important to the vitality of individuals, the well-being of families, and to the overall economic performance of the state. Unfortunately, Tennessee has a relatively unhealthy population. You can look at measures like the incidence of cancer, obesity, and things like cigarette smoking that lead to health problems. Tennessee has very poor rankings in those areas," said Matthew Murray, associate director and project director at the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research.

The report is prepared for the state every year by the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at UT's Haslam College of Business. The 2020 outlook was recently submitted to Governor Bill Lee with a special chapter highlighting the potential for better health to help the economy.

LINK:  PDF of full economic report sent to the governor of Tennessee

"It's something we can deal with that will help individuals in Tennessee and certainly pass a very rigorous cost-benefit test," said Murray. 

Credit: WBIR
Matthew Murray at the University of Tennessee.

Murray said poor health limits people's ability to engage in the labor force, creates hardships for families, and increases medical expenses. 

"What we're trying to do in that special chapter of the report is increase awareness of the importance of health and adverse-health in terms of hampering the economy. So, it's a very important chapter for policy-makers trying to find a way to not only help individuals, but the help our overall state economy," said Murray.

At Orange Theory Fitness in Bearden, fitness coach Jonathan Meschendorf helps get people into better shape. In the process, he's potentially helping the economy. 

Credit: WBIR
Participants at Knoxville's Orange Theory Fitness studio in Bearden exercise on rowing machines

"We say you can't put a price on your health. Long term, you're looking at reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease. Your medical bills are going to go down if you can take care of yourself. You are going to have more energy and be more productive," said Meschendorf.

Meschendorf organizes and encourages people during one-hour classes of running, rowing, and strength exercises.  He said anyone can take the first steps to improve fitness, whatever their location or financial situation.

"I love teaching classes and helping people. But fitness doesn't have to be surrounded by four walls and loud music. We are blessed in East Tennessee  with different types of parks, running trails, and we've got the mountains," said Meschendorf.  "The important thing is to find something you love, stick to it, and it's going to become a passion of yours."

Credit: WBIR
Jonathan Meschendorf, coach at Orange Theory Fitness in Bearden.

While health and fitness is an area with room for considerable improvement, the 2020 economic outlook is positive overall.

"We have had 10 years of continuous growth. We have historic lows in the unemployment rate. It's really a great time for people to be in the labor market," said Murray.

Murray said although economic growth is likely to slow down, he does not anticipate a downward slump.

"We don't see a recession on the horizon. We could always be wrong, but we simply do not see the ingredients right now formulating that would give rise to an economic downturn," said Murray.

Murray said location also makes a big difference in economic growth. Metropolitan areas in Tennessee have much stronger growth than rural areas. Nashville experienced the state's largest growth.  East Tennessee growth is solid, but slower than Middle Tennessee.  The lowest amount of growth is in West Tennessee.

RELATED: Dec. 21, 2019 - Q&A: TN Governor Bill Lee reflects on first year in office

RELATED: Dec. 23, 2019 - Report: Tennessee home prices up last quarter year-over-year