Mississippi has historically been among the states with the highest rates of obesity in the nation. According to the CDC, in 2015, about 1.5 million adults in Mississippi were overweight or obese. Obesity is often associated with increased risk for diabetes and cardiovascular problems and can put people at risk for developing other chronic diseases. But initiatives like Mississippi State University’s Extension Service’s AIM for CHangE intend to change that.
AIM for CHangE (short for Advancing, Inspiring, Motivating for Community Health through Extension) is a program focused on reducing the rate of obesity in some of the state’s most affected counties. AIM uses a holistic approach to solving this health issue by increasing communities’ access to healthy foods, physical activity, and health resources. AIM works directly with communities and community organizations in order to address health disparities in a way that is sustainable and that leads to healthier community behaviors. They operate with supportive funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
One such organization is Hearty Helpings Food Pantry, a Greenville-based food bank that serves healthy meals to local residents in need. Greenville is considered a food desert due to a lack of reliable public transportation, a lack of accessible healthy food, and other factors. This puts a great strain on surrounding communities and puts people at higher risk for chronic disease and obesity.
“Believe it or not, we have people walking two, three, or five miles to to get food,” said Pandora Redmond, founder of Greenville-based Hearty Helpings Food Pantry.
Since March 2020, Hearty Helpings has served more than 12,500 healthy meals to 42,381 people in Washington County. AIM helped secure food donations for Hearty Helpings to distribute, and even helped the food pantry secure funding for a new deep freezer for food storage.
But Greenville isn’t the only city in AIM’s service area. Communities in Falcon and Lexington, Mississippi have also benefited from AIM’s community approach to creating cultures of health.
In Falcon, AIM, after meeting with community leaders, led a community clean up that prioritized renovating basketball courts and installing new park enhancements so that local youth could have a safe place to exercise.
“We successfully completed between six and ten clean up days and we had Mayor Hodo and Ms. Liz and some of the youth came out and helped,” said Masey Smith, AIM’s Project Manager in an interview. “The biggest thing was to be able to install that pocket park enhancement. That was something that really brought so much joy to the community and it really brightened that area.”
In Lexington, AIM helped create the Lexington Food Pantry to serve local residents in Lexington and Holmes County after meeting with community members and identifying the need for one. Lexington Food Pantry was so successful that community members are currently working with AIM to find ways to expand the food bank’s service area in order to address food insecurity in communities across the Delta region.
Click here to learn more about AIM’s work and community engagement. Be sure to also follow MSU Extension on social media to stay up to date on their work. Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit https://uprootms.org/contact to get started.