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From five counties Advocates gather to promote health

In an effort to curb Mississippi’s startlingly poor health rates, the governor’s office has initiated a grassroots campaign to institute better wellness across the state.

Community members from five area counties gathered Monday at the First United Methodist Church in Brookhaven to take part in a Community Health Advocate Training Program, a curriculum provided by the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“Mississippi is pretty much number one in everything that pertains to health problems,” Michael L. Jones, Chief Community Health Officer at UMMC, said during the training program. “We want to focus on one of the untapped resources we have in this state, that is the common, every day, caring folks.”

Packets provided for the training program described community health advocates as “lay members of the community who, regardless of their professional status, function as trained to assist Mississippians with navigation of the health system, chronic disease management and chronic disease prevention.”

The program also aims to tackle the state’s alarming teen pregnancy rate through the governor’s Healthy Teens For a Better Mississippi Initiative.

Mississippi has the highest prevalence of teen pregnancy in the United States with approximately 64.1 babies per 1,000 born to teen mothers age 19 or younger in the state.

“There are so many people out there who want to be involved,” said state Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, of Dist. 39. Doty is chairperson of the governor’s Task Force on the Reduction of Teen Pregnancy and an outspoken proponent of its prevention.

“By providing a little bit of training and understanding along with what’s being taught already, we can get them [advocates] more information to help as they reach out into their own community, whether it be their church, civic organization or schools,” Doty said.

The Monday program also addressed Mississippi’s struggle with obesity. 34.4 percent of the state’s population is overweight, compared to the national rate of 33.8 percent.

“We eat to celebrate everything in Mississippi,” Jones said. “We eat when people are born, when they graduate, even when they die, and it’s not always the healthiest food.”

Jones instructed the class on methods of instituting healthier lifestyles as well as encouraging community members to seek regular check-ups from doctors.

“As advocates, we can get these patients prepared for their visit to a healthcare professional,” Jones said.

Shari Blailock, a registered dietician with the health departments of Lincoln, Lawrence and Franklin counties, participated in the program and commented on the benefits of the class.

“I will pass the nutrition information on to public health officials I see,” Blailock said. “It gives us some great resources to use. It’s always good have updated information.”

Another participant, Frances Cole, is a registered nurse at King’s Daughters Medical Center as well as the mother of a teenage mother.

“I love my school, love my county and just want to help,” Cole said. “I am going to get in touch with the health council at the Lincoln County School District and see what we can do to get them more active. It’s nice to hear from another standpoint to get out there and benefit our communities.”

Since its inception two years ago, the program has held 75 classes and trained over 1,000 Community Health Advocates.

“We want to equip these individuals in the community with various resources that they can use to teach healthier lifestyles,” Jones said.

“It’s not about re-inventing the wheel, but utilizing the infrastructure they are involved with already to promote the message.”