Report: Mississippi children fare worst on health

TUPELO – Mississippi ranks last once again in a national study measuring childhood well-being, but state officials connected to the report cite a few bright spots.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation on Tuesday released the 20th edition of its annual Kids Count Data Book. The book highlights 10 key indicators that measure children’s health; Mississippi ranks last on six of them and earned the worst total score nationwide.
New Hampshire earned the top rank.
But at least one researcher said that’s not the big story.
“It isn’t the fact that we’re No. 50 again and have been since 1998 – quite frankly we get tired of hearing about that,” said Ronald E. Cossman, research director for Mississippi Kids Count and associate research professor in social sciences for Mississippi State University.
Instead, Cossman said, the real story lies in the book’s essay, which this year focuses on the need for better data collection. Cossman said Mississippi has two examples of how that need has been met here:
- The Mississippi Department of Education created a national model for collecting information on high school dropouts by tracking the same students for four years.
- Amory Middle School emphasized good diet and exercise to its eighth-grade students, then evaluated their test scores to find that healthier students scored better on tests.
“Our reporting of graduation rates and dropout information is the most accurate in the country,” said Pete Smith, spokesman for the Department of Education.
Although the study pointed to several weaknesses in Mississippi, health officials statewide are working to improve the situation.
“It comes down to a couple of things …” said Valerie Long, executive director of CATCH Kids and a Mississippi Kids Count board member. “It’s about making sure comprehensive quality health care is both accessible and available for the parents, and educating the parents about the need for preventive-type health care.”
CATCH Kids already does this by providing community and school-based clinics in Tupelo, Okolona, Lee County and Pontotoc County.
But Long said improving children’s health is a lingering battle that’s often difficult in a state with so many rural areas.
That’s no excuse, according to Dr. Ed Hill, a Tupelo physician and past president of the American Medical Association. In a press release attached to the study, Hill said that “until we in Mississippi … (are) willing to make the necessary investment and sacrifices in education and health to improve the overall well-being of all our citizens, we will remain last.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal