Solutions for Food Insecurity Will Take Many Partners: 2023 Mississippi Hunger Summit

Solutions for Food Insecurity Will Take Many Partners: 2023 Mississippi Hunger Summit

The 2023 Mississippi Hunger Summit was an example of Mississippi public health organizations doing what they do best: coming together as partners to address our state’s critical issues.

In October 2023, the University of Mississippi CREW (Community First Research Center for Wellbeing & Creative Achievement) hosted the Mississippi Hunger Summit. Food access was a key component of the summit. As shown in presentations, food insecurity is an issue with effects that affect everything from mental health to education performance to obesity and health outcomes. With so many issues affected, welcoming input from a wide range of partners offers the best opportunity for innovative solutions.

One of the pillars of our work at UProot (you can read about it in our State Health Improvement Plan) is to tackle Food Insecurity. Food Insecurity is when people do not have enough quality food to ensure their health. This can mean insufficient food, or that the only available food does not provide the variety and nutrition required for good health.

Food Insecurity is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, stroke, and dementia. It also has a direct link to obesity. The reason is simple: When good food is hard to come by, families have no choice but to eat poorly. You can measure the accessibility of fresh, wholesome food in an area, and in many places in Mississippi, a lack of this constitutes what is known as aFood Desert.The distribution of these areas makes Food Insecurity a classic example of a Social Determinant of Health (SDOH).

Watch a clip from the opening remarks here:

Food Insecurity and Mental Health

Since hunger touches on many aspects of health, there was much to discuss, including the role of hunger and food insecurity on mental health. There are many connections between nutrition and mental health. Some are more obvious, such as the role of blood sugar in alertness or how the brain uses B vitamins and omega acids. Others are less obvious. Scott Hambleton, MD, Medical Director of the Mississippi Health Plan, also discussed the connection between the gut and the brain, a new area of interest that may become a powerful way of understanding mental and physical health that links both to the conditions in a community.

Food Insecurity’s Effects on Children

Children are especially vulnerable to food insecurity. The interplay between mental health, physical health, and the environment is precisely the sort of scenario that the SDOH concept attempts to address. 

From Dr. Hambleton’s presentation; “Nourishing the Mind: The Connection Between Nutrition and Mental Health”

Uproot Partners in Action

Several UProot partners attended. The Mississippi Food Network presented information about food pantry resources.

From MS Food Network Presentation

While many people want to help with food insecurity, it takes skill to provide food safely and effectively for many people. These requirements, why they are in place, and what they achieve, were the focus of one of MFN’s presentations. 

The 430 agencies that are part of the Mississippi Food Network are a testament to the number of people helping with food insecurity in Mississippi. It’s a big problem, and one a large number of Mississippians are eager to end.

To learn more about how to partner with the Mississippi Food Network, go to their website.

View a slideshow of photos from the 2023 Hunger Summit here.

You can help, too. UProot is all about ways to build a healthier Mississippi

3 Ways to Build a Healthier Mississippi

3 Ways to Build a Healthier Mississippi

UProot was developed to spark new ideas and opportunities to improve our state’s health. Read on for ways to connect to the great work happening to improve our state’s health. 

Read the State Health Improvement Plan

Developed using feedback from more than 19,000 residents, public health professionals, and community partners across the state, the State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) is a great place to start when looking to build a healthier state. 

It breaks down the cause and prevalence of Mississippi’s most pressing health issues, and contains actionable next steps employers, residents, educators, health-care professionals, faith-based organizations, and public health professionals can use to put the plan into action. 

Here’s an example for community residents: 

  1. Notice what chronic diseases (obesity, for example) are impacting your town or community. 
  2. Check the SHIP for tips on how to improve this health issue. In this example, you could help lower obesity rates by improving food access (volunteering at a food pantry, donating to organizations that provide food to those who are low-income or on disability, or starting a neighborhood food drive or community garden). 
  3. Spread the word. Get more people involved in improving this issue to help grow more solutions for a healthier Mississippi. 

Keep in mind that simply sharing, supporting, and lifting up healthy behaviors for friends and family members can have a big positive impact on our state’s health as well! Check out our resource directory to learn more about chronic diseases in your area and connect to free health management classes to boost wellness.

Join an UProot Work Group

For organizations looking to make a difference, joining one of UProot’s work groups is a great first step. Work groups meet on a monthly basis to track progress and develop new strategies for improving our state’s health. Priorities are based on the SHIP and are represented in the following focus areas: 

Social Determinants of Health contribute to health disparities across the state, and can have a major impact on the prevalence of chronic diseases. By joining in this work, your organization can take action to improve the environmental conditions of Mississippians, including people of color, tribal members, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged. Click here for a breakdown of this priority.

There’s also work being done specifically to lower obesity rates that your organization can take part in. Since obesity is a root cause for most chronic illnesses, it is a very important issue to address at both local and state levels. Improving obesity rates alone could save Mississippi over $13 billion annually in unnecessary health care costs. 

With three specific focus areas, we’re able to develop a more holistic approach to building better behaviors and lowering obesity rates. Click here to learn more about this priority and its focus areas.

See a workgroup that seems like the perfect fit for your organization? Click here to join! 

Share the Wins

Whether you’re a community organization or community leader, resident or public health advocate, always share the wins! Send us the health projects or events happening in your area, and we’ll amplify them to help spread the word and inspire others to grow a healthier Mississippi. 
If you already have a story ready to share with us, click here to send it to us!

<strong>Q&A with Dr. Kina White</strong>

Q&A with Dr. Kina White

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 collaboration with Trust for America’s Health, the Mississippi State Department of Health is working to advance an age-friendly ecosystem in Mississippi. The state department has adopted Trust for America’s Health’s 6 C’s framework for creating age-friendly public health systems and is using this framework to guide its work in this regard. 

The “6 C’s Framework” outlined by TFAH centers on advancing health equity when developing age-friendly public health systems. Right now, we’re working to support a local university to pursue the age-friendly university designation 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? 

There are a number of resources to indicate that a community supports healthy aging. Affordable and reliable transportation is often one the greatest community needs. 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 supporting healthy aging in this capacity. 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, all 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 sure. 

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


 

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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!