Headshot photo of Dr. Kina White
Dr. Kina White, Director of the Office of Community Health Improvement (OCHI) at the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH)

The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) was recently awarded Age-Friendly Public Health Systems recognition by Trust for America’s Health (TFAH). We spoke with Dr. Kina White, Director of the Office of Community Health Improvement (OCHI) at MSDH, to talk about this great achievement and learn more about efforts to make Mississippi a more age-friendly state. Read on to see what Dr. White had to share!

What is healthy aging?

If we use the World Health Organization’s definition, healthy aging is defined as the “process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age”. It enables people to be and do what they value throughout their everyday lives. 

Something that’s very important to consider when we think about healthy aging is that we’re all aging. I think that there’s this misperception that healthy aging is only applicable to older adults and it is not. The goal is for all of us to healthily age in our communities. 

How is MSDH working to make Mississippi more age-friendly?

Through work with Trust for America’s Health, the Mississippi State Department of Health is building age-friendly ecosystems in Mississippi. The state department has adopted Trust for America’s Health’s model for creating age-friendly public health systems, and is using that model to guide its work in this regard. 

The model is based on the “6 C’s Framework” outlined by TFAH and centers equity not only when creating health plans but also when collaborating with other health organizations across our state. Right now, we’re working to support a local university to become more dementia friendly and we’re also helping employers take on more age-friendly practices in the workplace. So with this ecosystem, Mississippi is on a path to becoming an age-friendly state where we can create a healthy community that respects all persons so that we can all healthily age. 

What resources indicate that a community supports healthy aging? 

Affordable and reliable transportation. If a community is able to provide transport services for older adults–whether through a community-based van service or non-emergent medical transportation–then that community is helping to support healthy aging. Proper infrastructure, like walkable sidewalks, is another example.

Another example would be adequate training for service staff–like grocery store workers or cashiers. If those staff are effectively trained to work with older adults, who may have a language barrier or communication issue, then those customers would not feel stigmatized or ashamed that their communication needs may be different from someone else’s. 

It’s really about creating an environment where individuals can live and thrive and not have to relocate because the support services are not there. And it does require an elevated level of planning, communicating, and coordinating with individuals. There is also a policy element. There has to be a need for policy change in these communities to ensure that transportation or infrastructure-related policies are in place to create those community van services and safe sidewalks.

And so this work happens on multiple levels–a policy level, or it could be a systems level–or it could be an environmental level–but that work is ultimately necessary to building age-friendly communities within our state.

In your opinion, what does it mean to create a culture of health?

For me, a culture of health is one that is equitable and where all persons, collective individuals, and organizations are respective of differences and similarities. Without equity, that culture, in my opinion, is not well established or sustained.

What projects are you excited about? 

We have a new initiative called “Health Aging Champions”. It’s a volunteer-based program where older adults can volunteer to support our effort to become more age friendly as a state. 

Volunteers can help us learn what local communities need and how to best offer age-friendly services. This project also gives our older adults a voice at the table for a change, which is really exciting.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell our audience?

We are proud to do this work and support all of our Mississippians as we age! I think this will be yet another great opportunity for collaboration in our state. 

For more information, reach out to Dr. Kina White at kina.white@msdh.ms.gov

Responses edited for brevity and clarity. Views expressed in interviews published on this site are solely those of the interviewees.

<strong>Addressing Food Insecurity in the Nation’s ‘Hungriest State’</strong>

Addressing Food Insecurity in the Nation’s ‘Hungriest State’

On April 4, our team, along with one of our Battling Obesity workgroups attended the Mississippi Food Network Conference to learn more about local efforts to eliminate one of our state’s most pressing issues: food insecurity. 

At the county level, Mississippi has the highest rate of food insecurity in the nation and has been considered as the most food insecure state in the country by Feeding America for nearly a decade.

1 in 4 Mississippians deal with food insecurity, and it is a disparity that has been shown to put people at higher risk for obesity and chronic disease. And, although it may seem like a one-problem-one-solution issue, it actually requires a more holistic approach. 

Food insecurity is caused by a number of factors, or social determinants of health, such as income, transportation access, and local food availability. It’s also caused by food deserts–which, unfortunately, are very common in Mississippi. 

Food deserts are communities that have limited access to healthy, affordable foods. When identifying whether or not a community is a food desert, distance plays a key role. Residents must live between 1 and 10 miles from their nearest supermarket in order to have adequate access to food. But, in areas like the Mississippi Delta, where nearly 20% of the state’s population resides, residents have access to just one food market per 190.5 square miles. There is also store inventory to consider; as one participant of our community listening sessions noted, “most stores do not have enough variety of healthy food.” 

When people aren’t able to access fresh, healthy food–either because of distance or lack of availability–they may turn to eating at fast food places or restaurants as an alternative. This is how food insecurity leads to poor nutrition and adverse health outcomes like obesity. 

Our plan is to reduce food insecurity by 10% in the next five years by increasing food access and eliminating food deserts across the state. We’re proud to work with organizations like the Mississippi Food Network to strengthen our efforts and raise awareness around the importance of ending food insecurity. 

Click here to learn more about the latest State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) and how you can help improve our state’s health. Then, show us how you’re bettering community health by sending us your success story! Visit https://uprootms.org/contact to get started.

FAT to Fit Olympic Games Makes Health Fun

FAT to Fit Olympic Games Makes Health Fun

In 2004, Jefferson County was reported as the most obese county in America. In 2010, Janell and Anthony Edwards attended the Global Obesity Summit in Jackson, and they realized that something needed to be done in terms of improving public health in Mississippi, starting in their community of Jefferson County. That same year, they created the FAT to Fit Olympic Games.

This past year, the Fayette Community Service Organization (FCSO) held its 9th Annual FAT to Fit Olympics Games on July 19 and 20 at Alcorn State. The FAT to Fit Olympic Games consists of many field day games, ranging from 3-on-3 basketball to tug of war, and they have recently added a qualifying event in other counties for four of the tournament games. Winners of all of the games receive a bike or a cash prize. All participants also go through a free health screening.

“Our mission is to foster health and wealth among young men and women, including youth, by empowering service and guidance. Our vision is to create healthier and wealthier communities in Mississippi by turning a negative that has plagued our state for so many years into a positive,” says Janell Edwards.

To date, the Fayette Community Services Organization has conducted over 15,789 free health screenings, and has awarded over 1000 new bicycles and over $4000 in cash and healthcare products. Their goal for the 2020 event is to have a total of five counties participate, and they hope to reach even more counties. 

One of the most helpful people in their journey has been Dr. Olu T. Ekundayo, who helped them realize the importance of getting clean data. 

“When you get the data on somebody’s blood pressure, it comes from a hospital where they have a blood pressure issue. So, we had an event where you’re at the best health possible, and we’re getting those real numbers. You get clean data — you’re not getting sick data,” says Anthony Edwards.

FAT to Fit Olympic Games outgrew both their locations at the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors facility and the local junior high gymnasium in Fayette, and when they realized they were going to be expanding into multiple counties and attracting more people, they decided to partner with Alcorn State and use their larger facilities. 

“We are dedicated to be a part of the solution. We are the inspiration for the nation fighting obesity. We want FAT to Fit to go nationwide. We’ve had participants from thirteen different Mississippi counties and five U.S. states. It will be based in health and people just coming out to have fun,” says Janell Edwards. 

FCSO is also involved in other projects that work to create a culture of health and help lessen the high rates of obesity in our state:

The Fitness is Fun – Community Health Engagement Awareness Program (FIF-CHEAP) implements community engagement activities in targeted counties to increase health knowledge. They provide community meetings, live radio talk segments, and live social media prize campaigns to foster deeper understandings of obesity risk factors and its correlation to social and lifestyle factors, while also promoting obesity prevention and treatment strategies. 

The Healthy Intervention Project Community (HIP-C) tracks the health of 3rd-6th graders with annual health screenings up until their senior year of high school. They have been doing this program for seven years, and their first class of students just graduated. The goal for this project is to establish health consciousness in young children.

The Community Garden in Fayette, MS will open in March 2020 and includes a pond, a walking trail, and a garden. The garden will also have a classroom style demo set up, and through partnerships with MSU Extension and Alcorn State Extension, they will offer gardening classes on site. 

Health Radio Segments – FCSO will have segments on their local radio with healthy advice and recipes in hopes of expanding health literacy throughout the community. This project is funded by the Mississippi State Department of Health. 

Learn more about the Fayette Community Service Organization on their Facebook


How to Have a Healthy Tailgate

How to Have a Healthy Tailgate

Southerners know the first sign of autumn isn’t the changing of the leaves, but the running of the ball. Football season is upon us! But though you’ll likely be surrounded by wings and Rotel dip at our favorite tailgating spots and might worry that you won’t have many options, never fear! Making football food healthy doesn’t have to mean celery sticks and fruit plates alone. Here are some yummy tailgate food ideas that would satisfy the tastes of any eater (and keep your doctor from hollering at you about your blood pressure).

Appetizer: Hummus

A Mediterranean dip comprised of garbanzo beans, tahini (a paste of ground sesame seeds), herbs to taste, and olive oil, hummus is a fast and tasty solution to satisfying savory cravings. Blend it yourself or grab it near the deli at any grocery store. Need a kick? Add sriracha or peppers to the blend for spicy, zesty goodness that you might even forget about not having some buffalo dip. Serve with crackers, bread, that side celery—however you like to dip!

Entree: Veggie burgers

Nothing says indulgence like a burger loaded with condiments, veggies, and cheese. The awesome part is you can always make a burger taste good, whether it’s keto, paleo, vegan—however you like to eat! Burger purist? Choose quality beef that’s free from preservatives. Going leaner? Use ground turkey or chicken, or even salmon or crab patties. Trying to get more plants in? Make your own veggie burgers! And don’t be afraid of fries as a side; just bake them instead of fry them. They’ll crisp up just as nicely!

Dessert: Options are endless!

Even if your team isn’t playing as well as you’d like, you can still make a dessert worth bragging on. Just like veggie burgers, desserts are some of the easiest products to make healthy, and so delicious that even the biggest sweets lover will enjoy them. Recipe call for eggs? Grab a plant-based egg replacer. Need milk and butter? Try non-dairy options, or their low-fat counterparts. Try fruit with low-fat, no sugar whipped cream. You can whip coconut milk in a blender with honey and vanilla!

So if you’re feeding Tigers or Bulldogs or Land Sharks or any of the other Mississippi teams playing their hearts out this football season, just know you can celebrate your team and still eat just as good with a few healthy twists!

Check out our Pinterest for even more healthy tailgating recipes! We’ve got a whole board on the topic.

Photo by Dragne Marius on Unsplash

UProot Mississippi builds bridges that connect Mississippians to opportunities and resources that can help inspire them to lead healthier lifestyles. So we were excited to feature our state’s strong legion of public-health workers for National Public Health Week 2018; these hard workers are committed to improving the health and quality of life of all Mississippians, and strive every day to achieve that goal. (You can check out the State Health Assessment and State Health Improvement Plan for more about Mississippi’s public health goals!)

Each day of National Public Health Week 2018 spotlighted a particular public health-concern, with insight from a Mississippi public-health expert. We started off the week with a focus on Behavioral Health:

 

Communicable Diseases:

 

Environmental Health:

 

Injury and Violence Prevention:

 

and finished the week with an empowering message on Ensuring the Right to Health.

 

We also celebrated with the Dr. Ed Thompson Walk for Public Health! See even more photos, and the live stream, on our Facebook page.

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Check out these videos on our YouTube and subscribe to our channel for even more updates!

 

 

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What if you got experience for your future career as early as high school? The Academies of Jackson Public School District, installed at each of the seven high schools and the district’s Career Development Center, give students the opportunity to get a head start on their next step in life. Whether they’re interested in healthcare, technology, business or academia, students get special opportunities to learn how professionals operate in the real world.

At the first-annual Youth Health Matters Symposium at the Jackson Medical Mall,  Health Science Academy students got a health-professions smorgasbord. Students browsed information tables and attended mini seminars hosted by local colleges, universities, state agencies, and nonprofits. 

“Considering how so many students don’t get an opportunity to know about the different fields, (the Symposium) gives them some important exposure,” said Felicia Wolfe, Academy coach at Lanier High School.

Students aspired to have careers in a variety of health careers. Lanier High School juniors Sabastian Robinson, Jamauria Davis, and Toyana Funches, who want to be a veterinarian, pharmacist and cardiologist, respectively, all said they appreciated the insight offered to them by the Symposium. Students with career aspirations besides healthcare found the event helpful, too.

“It’s helped me learn more about mental health,” says 16-year-old Rosalio Hernandez, a Jim Hill High School junior who wants to become a lawyer.

Events like the symposium are important for JPS students. The 27,000-strong district has mostly black students, who alongside Latino and Native American students nationwide are largely underrepresented in STEM majors in college, despite their high interest in the subject matter. These numbers are especially low for girls and women, and their low numbers in the STEM workforce reflect that. But with events like the symposium, students not only see their community members represented in these fields but also the real-world impact of the work of health professionals. These educational opportunities make them more likely to stick to and complete their STEM major upon enrollment in college—and hopefully return to their communities to build an even stronger culture of health at home.

 

How Young People Can Help Create a Culture of Health

Encourage them to get involved. Young people are extremely powerful agents of change. When they volunteer, they gain empathy for different groups and better learn how to serve the needs of a diverse group of people.

Educate them. Most schools have vocational programs and a variety of science electives and extracurricular activities. Talk to your school board about ways to empower kids to learn new healthy skills, or ways to engage health professionals in the community to put on health fairs.

Expand their perspectives. Health is not just about medical issues. Consider how public spaces like the availability of walking and biking trails can affect health. For students who are not pursuing biology, for example, volunteering to clear a walking path can contribute to the community’s health. Emotional and mental health are also critical to total wellness; this health symposium put on workshops on healthy dating and domestic violence awareness. Reach out to mental health professionals, too!

How one of the healthiest companies in Mississippi makes workplace wellness easy

How one of the healthiest companies in Mississippi makes workplace wellness easy

Kellye Smith is a resource specialist for Ross & Yerger, one of the largest privately owned insurance agencies in Mississippi with offices in Jackson, Tupelo, Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

In Jackson, Ross & Yerger employs 116 individuals who have on-site access to a gym,  on-the-clock half hour per week to exercise, quarterly health and fitness challenges and occasional food kaleidoscopes, colorful events where employees learn about and sample new foods—mostly, new fruits and vegetables.

So it’s no surprise that in 2016 the Mississippi Business Journal ranked Ross & Yerger the healthiest privately-owned, medium-sized company in the state. It’s a well-earned title, and reflects its commitment to health in the hard data; the company has a 96.5 percent employee retention rate. Its employees’ overweight BMIs and cholesterol levels dropped 11 and 18 percentage points since 2008, respectively.

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Eliminating Obstacles to Good Health

So how does a company in Mississippi, oft-cited as the unhealthiest state in America not only for adults but also for children, do such good work? Smith says it comes from making health an institutional priority for the company, and eliminating obstacles to good health for their employees.

“We’ve seen enough research to know if your workplace is not a healthy environment you’re going to have a hard time keeping people in the most physical sense; if you have sick employees, how good is that going to be to your workforce?” she said.

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A Company-Wide Goal

Good health is an institutional goal at Ross & Yerger. Its leadership team is deeply invested in making sure employees enjoy going to work, Smith says, and surveys employees to ask them what they want—an effort they take seriously and continue to tweak and drive so that it’s part of the work culture. “When you come to work here, pretty quickly after orientation, we’re going to sit down and have a conversation about the wellness program,” she says.

Wellness for Mind and Body

The company doesn’t focus on physical wellness alone, either; employees have access to free counseling, quarterly seminars on stress relief and a CEO, Smith says, who is invested in the happiness of his employees.

“A successful wellness program is if you can prevent one heart attack from happening,” she said. “You don’t have to make everyone radical vegans or marathon runners. Get them to a place that’s easily sustainable so that we can prevent the onslaught of health conditions that we see in the state of Mississippi. To be able to combat that is really what we’re trying to do here.”

Try some tips from Ross & Yerger you could replicate for your own business:

1. Make health a priority
Ross & Yerger’s healthcare system wouldn’t work well without organization. Consider developing a comprehensive wellness plan for your company. 

2. Build camaraderie
Teamwork makes the dream work. At Ross & Yerger, employees can complete fitness challenges together.

3. Set the example!
From the top down, Ross & Yerger prioritizes physical and emotional health.  Invite every person in your company to participate!

Food Hub Keeps Local Produce In Mississippi

Food Hub Keeps Local Produce In Mississippi

msliftIn 2014 a group of restaurant owners and chefs came together to create Soul City Hospitality, which brings local, Mississippi-grown produce to the state’s restaurants, grocery stores, schools, and farmers markets in order to support Mississippi agriculture and create a culture of health through locally-sourced natural ingredients.

Challenge

Prior to the creation of the Up in Farms Food Hub at the heart of Soul City Hospitality’s Locally Invested Food Trade program, farmers had to travel to multiple locations all across the state in order to sell their produce. This meant taking away from valuable farming time, driving up costs of travel expenses, selling what they could (and often nothing at all) to farmer’s markets, stores, or even on their own on the side of the road. It was an ineffective system that didn’t guarantee local produce was getting to the table of Mississippians. And, often, food went to waste.

Solution

The Locally Invested Food Trade Solution was to create a centrally located “Food Hub” in Jackson. The Food Hub, located next to the Jackson Farmer’s Market, essentially solved the problems farmers faced when trying to sell their produce. It reduced travel times because now farmers only had to travel to one central location. It guaranteed buyers for their produce. It increased time to get back to farming, and it kept local produce in state, providing healthy food sources for Mississippians and reducing waste.

Results

Locally grown produce stayed local and went to Mississippi’s restaurants, stores, and schools. The Food Hub created a resilient and sustainable food system, brought better, seasonal produce to MS schools, contributed to the growth of the Mississippi farming and agricultural sector, and ultimately helped to create a culture of health for Mississippians of all ages while aiding to a strengthened agricultural economy.

Sustainable Success

As the LIFT program continues to grow, the Food Hub model can be applied to regions all across the state so that farmers far from the Capital City can travel to their nearest hub. These hubs can support the local restaurants, schools and other buyers, making Mississippi’s food systems even more localized. This will also allow farmers to connect one-on-one with business owners, which will strengthen the relationship between our agricultural and business sectors. As these two sectors begin to work together more and more, not only do they benefit from each other, they also solve a pressing social issue which will help to create a culture of health for all Mississippians.

UM Named Among ‘Mississippi’s Healthiest Workplaces’

UM Named Among ‘Mississippi’s Healthiest Workplaces’

UM Named Among ‘Mississippi’s Healthiest Workplaces’