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KNOXVILLE — Dr. Michael Zemel’s prescription for overweight Tennesseans is simple: Think small.

“We-re about small changes,” said Zemel, a University of Tennessee professor of nutrition. He heads Tennessee on the Move, the state affiliate of America on the Move, a non-profit program that aims to reduce the national epidemic of obesity.

UT was awarded a $500,000 federal grant last week to launch a statewide campaign of education and support through schools, health departments and workplaces.

“We want to stop weight gain in its tracks,” Zemel said. “Obesity-related diseases now kill 400,000 Americans a year. That-s up from 300,000 a decade ago.”

He described Tennessee on the Move’s three-pronged approach of increasing activity by 2,000 steps per day, reducing caloric intake by 100 calories per day, and including three servings of low-fat dairy products in the daily diet.

“The small changes you can live with are more important than the dramatic changes you plan but can’t achieve,” he said. “We’re not asking you to go to the gym every day. We’re just asking you to do more than you did yesterday. Walk up a flight of stairs. Walk down two flights. Take a walk with your children. Park at the far end of the lot. This is a menu of things you can do easily, not a long list of can’t-dos.”

The program applies the same positive approach to reducing calories, offering a list of 100 ways to cut 100 calories a day.

“The average adult gains one to two pounds a year,” Zemel said. “But this trend can be reversed.”

The emphasis on low-fat dairy products is based on Zemel’s research, which has established a clear link between calcium intake and the ability of the body to burn fat. He has documented that increased calcium levels in the diet signal fat cells to stop storing fat and to start burning it.

“The three servings of low-fat dairy approximately double the effectiveness of your weight loss efforts,” he said. He is the author of numerous papers on this subject and of the book “The Calcium Key,” published last fall.

Zemel and his team are working with businesses, schools, community groups and health departments to make Tennessee on the Move information widely available. It’s also possible to join the program online at www.americaonthemove.org/tn.