John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, along with Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, today announced the launch of “Healthy South Texas,” a novel effort to reduce preventable diseases and their consequences throughout the region. The pilot program of the Healthy Texas Initiative, “Healthy South Texas” will combine the expertise of the Texas A&M Health Science Center with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s one-of-a-kind, statewide reach to promote preventative health at the most local level of the community, improving the well-being of South Texans for generations to come.

“While the tools and techniques to improve the health of Texans have been, for the most part, available, what was missing was the comprehensive, multi-disciplinary team – with unparalleled statewide capabilities and assets – to transform the impossible into the inevitable,” Sharp said. “We are doing for health what extension agents have done for agriculture for more than a century; essentially creating a new ‘crop’ of extension agents, poised to empower Texans to take control of their own health and wellness.”

“Just last year, representatives from Texas A&M University announced our Healthy Texas Initiative, the first genuine ‘land grant’ solution to one of society’s greatest challenges,” said Michael K. Young, president of Texas A&M University. “Today, thanks to the generous support of the Texas Legislature, the Healthy Texas pilot program will officially launch throughout South Texas, ensuring that future generations of Texans have the tools and information they need to lead healthier lives and make informed decisions based on research conducted through Texas A&M and the A&M System.”

Focusing on the highest impact diseases in the region, including diabetes, asthma and infectious disease, the initiative brings together experts from medicine, nursing, pharmacy, biomedical science, public health, architecture and extension to engage families, enhance education, promote behavior change, and improve quality of medical care and disease outcomes. The result of a $10 million investment from the 84th Texas Legislature, the program will initially be implemented in a 27-county region spanning South Texas.

“The key to a strong and successful future for Texas is only possible if we ensure that the next generation of Texans is healthy and well-educated,” said Senator Hinojosa, a McAllen native who represents District 20. “Through Texas A&M’s combined health science capabilities and statewide agricultural extension outreach, Healthy South Texas will enable our region to meet its full potential as the most vibrant and productive part of Texas, and will serve as a model for improved health across the entire state.”

Utilizing a unique ‘prevention is the solution’ approach, the initiative will teach South Texans to take personal responsibility over their own health to reduce the burden of costly, preventable diseases.

“Already present in 250 counties throughout the state, extension agents are expert at bringing agricultural research and information to the community – and disseminating it in a way that sticks for generations,” said Susan Ballabina, Ph.D., associate director of program development at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. “Now, working in-tandem with the health science center, we want to add healthier living to that mission. I’m excited to encourage agents to engage families through effective nutrition, health and wellness programming throughout the region.”

Leveraging existing regional assets, the initiative merges expertise from across Texas A&M Health Science Center campuses in Corpus Christi with the Texas A&M Coastal Bend Health Education Center and Texas A&M College of Medicine; Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy in Kingsville; Texas A&M School of Public Health and Texas A&M College of Nursing in McAllen; Texas A&M Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston; along with the Texas A&M College of Architecture’s Colonias Program; Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi; Texas A&M International University-Laredo and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, currently present in every county. Additionally, through partnerships with hospitals and clinics throughout the region, “Healthy South Texas” will reduce the overall health care costs associated with preventable diseases.

“Through our integrated efforts, we will expand and maintain prevention services at the most local level of the community, at a time when health outcomes can be improved at a fraction of the cost when compared to expensive ‘late stage’ medical treatments in hospital settings,” said Scott Lillibridge, M.D., director of health initiatives at The Texas A&M University System and professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health. “This innovative program will serve the region as a whole, while developing tools, technologies and strategies that can be applied to public health challenges around the state. In doing so, we will improve the health of Texans for years to come.”

— Holly Shive

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