Health issues make big headlines, as they should. Here are three items gleaned from recent news:
The first is encouraging. Hospitals are discovering that it pays to focus case management resources on high volume users (so-called “super-utilizers”) of emergency room services. Chronically homeless individuals, for example, or substance abusers without health insurance, will rely on emergency rooms for basic health care much less often if attention is given to resolving their “underlying” problems. It is indeed encouraging to see this happening, and one can only hope the practice of such intervention will eventually become commonplace. At the same time, I can’t resist noting that “this ain’t rocket science, folks”; it’s called social work, it’s been around a while, and it can work wonders when practiced by properly trained professionals.
Unfortunately, the other two ideas are bad ones. Not merely not encouraging, but just plain bad policy from a health promotion standpoint.
The first is an attempt by some in the U.S. Congress, recently reported by Sid Salter in the Clarion-Ledger, to pull the SNAP program (“food stamps”) out from comprehensive agriculture legislation, so that it can be more easily attacked and de-funded. Such a move – resisted by moderate Republican Senator Thad Cochran – would be very very bad for Mississippi, where more than one in five citizens (by definition many of the poorest and most vulnerable) are eligible for SNAP, with the numbers growing dramatically during our painfully protracted recession. He’s hard to stay well and healthy when you’re not eating regularly.
The second bad idea involves an effort by North Carolina state legislators to emulate some of their Mississippi counterparts – a welcome event, perhaps, were it not for the object of their imitation. The “Commonsense Consumption Act” would, like similar legislation in the Magnolia State, prevent communities from regulating the size of soft drinks retailers can sell. No matter that high sugar consumption is a central villain in the obesity epidemic, nor that no city in either Mississippi or North Carolina has in fact drunk the New York City-Mayor Bloomberg koolaid and tried to impose regulation. Legislators want to be sure nobody gets any fancy ideas about promoting public health over the individual’s right to exercise “common sense.” Let’s hear it for the freedom to be fat and flirt with chronic disease.
We all know that obesity is the health scourge of America – and especially Mississippi. We also know that reducing obesity rates is an essential key to improving health outcomes generally (not to mention reducing the enormous costs associated with addressing chronic diseases). And that an essential key to reducing obesity is increasing physical activity. What we don’t seem to know is how to get people to move, and to keep them moving.
Public health researchers at UCLA seem to have come up with one damn good answer – dance! Focusing on youth in minority neighborhoods and communities, researchers found that kids will almost universally embrace one kind of dancing or another, depending on culture, custom, and local leadership. African-American kids tend to dig hip-hop; Latino kids gravitate to salsa; Appalachian youngsters go for “talking dance” (sorry, I have no idea what that is!). They’ll not only try it, they’ll stick with it if there’s a program, and program leadership, around to offer it and support it.
UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health is pursuing obesity prevention and reduction in a very big way – to the tune of a $20 million federal grant aimed at urban areas across the country with the complementary weapons of physical activty and better nutrition.
This is great. UCLA is to be applauded, and their programs, no doubt, emulated. But guess what? You don’t need a $20 million dollar grant (nice as that would be) to attack obesity in Mississippi or any place else. You just have to get up and dance! And not just kids, but everybody with two feet (even two left ones). As the saying goes, “If you can walk, you can dance.”
Congratulations to University of Southern Mississippi students Michael Sims of Hattiesburg, Miss., and Hannah Roberts of Mount Olive, Miss., who have been awarded Goldwater Scholarships. The scholarships recognize the “nation’s next generation of top research scientists.”
Sims is a junior majoring in polymer science and chemistry, while Roberts is a sophomore chemistry major.
Congratulations to both Michael and Hannah. All of us in the College of Science and Technology are proud of you.
Friday was a good day, dominated by two “big” events – a half-day morning meeting with my Dean’s Council, and an extended observation of the Faculty Senate in the afternoon, highlighed by new-president Rodney Bennett’s first address to senators.
Dean’s Council – a group of engaged and influential supporters and contributors to the college – meets but twice per year, so its every gathering is inherently special. Many thanks to Tommy Thorton and Hattiesburg Clinic for hosting this round, when a more-or-less last-minute change of venue was required.
As for the Senate - It was heartening to hear a good-news tone (however tentative and restrained) to the president’s remarks. On the money side – broad faculty/staff raises in the mix, a possible improvement in the IHL funding formula situation (no decision yet, questions raised and under review), larger faculty promotion increments. More generally – a commitment to evidence-based decision-making, thorough transparency (warm remarks for Ed Kemp of the Hattiesburg American, no less!), and shared governance beaucoup.
What’s not to like? It’s the “honeymoon” phase, to be sure, but a good start for the new top administrator nonetheless.
This is the time of year when students are stopping by the HoCo offices to tell us about their summer plans. Sophomore Meredith Barefield popped by today with absolutely terrific news: She has been accepted into a hotly competitive summer research program for undergraduates at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I asked her to tell you all about it in the short video below.