November 27, 2014  

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Southern Miss Health Educators Work to Reverse State’s Failing Grade

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Despite statistics that continue to show Mississippi failing in vital public health categories, educators at The University of Southern Mississippi remain undaunted in their efforts to reverse the dismal trend.

Last week the Mississippi State Medical Association, in conjunction with the Mississippi State Department of Health, gave the state a failing grade in its 2011 Public Health Report Card. Among the more alarming statistics, Mississippi has more obese adults per capita than any state in the nation and leads in deaths by heart disease. The state ranks second in cases of diabetes and hypertension, as well as infant mortality.

Dr. Mike Forster, dean of the College of Health at Southern Miss, noted that the university produces more than 700 health care professionals per year – nurses, nutritionists, medical technologists, public health educators, speech pathologists, recreation specialists, social workers and more -- who support the health services infrastructure of the state and the region.

“Mississippi’s continually failing health marks underscores the urgency of turning our attention to prevention and wellness promotion, in addition to expanding health care coverage, for chronic diseases in particular, to Mississippi citizens,” said Forster. “At Southern Miss, we are not only engaged on several fronts but also strongly committed to turning around these dreadful statistics.”

The Southern Miss College of Health averages $10 million per year in funded research and applied program addressing acute health-related issues in Mississippi. One unique program – “Hub City Steps” – features a collaboration with the City of Hattiesburg. The walking intervention project matches community “coaches” with participants who want to lose weight.

Dr. Kathy Yadrick, chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Systems at Southern Miss, says social support goes a long way toward ensuring success for programs and approaches that target obesity.

“Community and commercial programs that pair individuals with a friend or partner who provides encouragement and motivation, or that provide group support to reach personal weight loss goals, are those that have the highest success rates,” said Yadrick.

Forster and Yadrick agree that early intervention remains a crucial strategy for improving Mississippi’s health report card.

“Our faculty has been tracking obesity rates and physical activity levels in children in the school setting, as well as supporting implementation of school wellness policies, because we recognize that developing healthy lifestyles at a young age is the key to improving the health of our citizens in the future,” said Yadrick.

To learn more about programs supported by the Southern Miss College of Health, call 601.266.5253 or visit: http://www.usm.edu/health