Champions for Health in the South

      Posted On: February 5, 2018

According to a recent report, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Vermont rank as the healthiest states in the nation. The bottom three? Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. That’s not a surprise, says Jay Maddock, a professor of public health at Texas A&M University. In southern states, Americans are more likely to die prematurely from a wide variety of chronic conditions.

For example, people living in many areas in the south are twice as likely to be smokers and be sedentary than people living in Utah. Every southern state except Florida has an adult obesity rate higher than 30 percent.

Funding for public health differs across the region, with West Virginia providing more per capita than any other state and Missouri spending a fifth of that. The uninsured population is also a mix, with Kentucky and West Virginia having low rates and Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma having some of the highest.

A new initiative that centers around the deep regional attachment to college football is hoping to change that. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) has 14 member institutions in 11 southern states that include the flagship public universities of 10 states, three public land-grant universities, and one private research university; public health leaders from these institutions met in 2017 at Texas A&M to draft ideas to tackle these issues. Next steps are to formalize a partnership with the Aspen Institute is the development and implementation of an activation strategy that is unique and specific to the environment and culture of southern states and designed to improve health both within the SEC member institutions and in the communities, states, and regions they serve.