Wednesday, June 21, 2017
The other day, I bumped into Mayor-elect Chokwe Lumumba in the grocery store. I am happy to report that he was in the produce section. Lumumba, whom I have spoken to on the issue of health several times, is a health-conscious politician who understands the link between economic development and community health.
When a company considers relocating or expanding to a city, it considers more than the conditions of its streets. The health of the population is also a factor because it affects medical costs and productivity, which can adversely affect the company's bottom line.
A report from WalletHub ranks Jackson as the fattest city in the U.S. Blacks account for approximately 75 percent of the population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website says that black people tend to experience some of the highest rates of conditions that obesity can cause such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Chronic conditions are driving up the high costs of medical care, which employers usually sponsor through insurance policies. The National League of Cities reports that the annual health-care costs of obesity-related illnesses are $190.2 billion. Data from the Mississippi Department of Health shows that the total costs of treating diabetes is $245 billion, including $69 billion in reduced productivity. Employers interested in operating in Jackson could possibly be apprehensive toward hiring from such an unhealthy population.
In order for Jackson to become the city that Lumumba envisions, we will need to create a culture of wellness and quality of life. Although the city has passed a smoke-free ordinance, there are other steps it needs to take. The road map to a healthy population should provide opportunities for residents to engage in routine daily physical activity in a safe environment, safely walk or ride a bicycle on city streets, socialize in neighborhood parks, ensure easy access to healthy foods and make healthy living a more appealing option.
This agenda will need buy-in from the city council. But more importantly, it will take the commitment and engagement of local stakeholders to conduct a community-health impact assessment. That will involve critical input, shared data, collaboration, promotion of important community-health issues and the creation of an official agenda. The results should be policies that create and shape environments in which Jackson residents can safely enjoy healthy lifestyles that lead to reduced rates of obesity and the conditions it causes. Community stakeholders should include local business leaders, representatives of community, medical, academic and faith-based institutions, public-health professionals, civilians and others.
The capital city can learn from other municipalities such as the cities of Amory, Starkville and Hernando, all of which received the 2017 Playful City Award from Playful City USA for increasing physical-activity opportunities for children living in their cities and neighborhoods.
Next month, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation will announce its annual Healthy Hometown Award winner. Three municipalities will receive a $25,000 grant award, and the municipality designated as the "Healthiest Hometown in Mississippi" will receive a $50,000 award.
Previous winners include Walnut, Oxford and Morton. The town of Walnut developed a farmers market downtown, which included green space for physical activities. Oxford uses its city website to promote health-related events and businesses. The City of Morton developed Morton in Motion, a health-education program and a weight-loss competition.
There are other private and public grants the City of Jackson could compete for to support its community-health agenda. Our city faces many issues, but community health is equally important in attracting businesses to Jackson. Thankfully, we now have a mayor who can get Jackson moving in the right direction.
Getty Israel, who has a master's degree in public health, is a health consultant and author.