Public health Mississippians inflict some illnesses on themselves

State Health Officer Ed Thompson’s address at the State of the Region meeting on Thursday in Tupelo presented a lot of crystal-clear numbers for the audience at the BancorpSouth Conference Center.

The old adage that “numbers don’t lie” applies to what Thompson showed hundreds of civic leaders from across Northeast Mississippi: The state of health in Mississippi needs improvement.

A lot of the negative numbers rise from individual behaviors and choices; others have links to the culture of poverty still gripping 25 percent of our people; and, others raise issues about claimed strait-laced behavior which hard numbers make a lie.

- We are the most obese state in the nation (32 percent), a causative link to diabetes (2nd in the nation) and heart disease (Mississippi’s leading cause of premature death).

- A higher percentage of Mississippians smoke than people nationwide (23.9 percent to 19.8 percent), linking cancer as the second -leading cause of premature death.

- More than half of all Mississippi babies are born to single women, suggesting that financial and family situations in many instances are less than ideal in terms of health care and household stability.

- Our highest-among-states infant mortality rate, if it could be lowered to only the national average, would mean 180 fewer infant deaths statewide every year.

All the medical challenges are awesome, and solutions obviously will be long term. All can be improved by individual action, community involvement, and encouragement.

Other issues Thompson raised involve public financing and policy issues in the hands of the Legislature and Gov. Barbour. Thompson correctly noted sharp declines of in-the-field public health nurses and disease investigators – those scientists who find the why, where, and how of disease outbreaks and increases in the incidence of illnesses that are of public concern. The scientists also find out why babies die in the first year, where mosquitoes breed, ultimately inflecting some with West Nile Virus, and they look for and report unsanitary conditions in public places like schools, restaurants, and water supplies.

Thompson had an earlier tenure as the state health officer. Then he worked at the highest levels of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, the world’s leading authority on disease, origins and prevention. Then he was a valued professor at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine.

He knows what’s he talking about when it comes to public health. Every Mississippian has a stake in public health issues, so when Thompson says he needs more nurses and investigators, we should help him with our advocacy.

He’s working in our interests, and he’s very good at what he does.

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