Every Southeastern Conference (SEC) school is located in a state whose health rankings are in the bottom one-third of all states, and eight of them rank among the lowest 20 percent. Texas ranks 33rd nationally when considering measures like rates of obesity, diabetes, smoking, alcohol and drug use, immunizations, physical inactivity, infant mortality and violent crime. More generally, the American South performs poorly on most health indicators with a disproportionate impact on underserved people and communities.

The SEC has 14 member institutions in 11 southern states that include the flagship public universities of 10 states, three public land-grant universities, and one private research university.

As an SEC member institution, Texas A&M University is committed to helping its fellow institutions and their states to better the health of their citizens. “The southern states have been in the bottom of the health rankings for too long,” said Jay Maddock, PhD, dean of the Texas A&M School of Public Health. “We are excited about the potential to bring together some of the premier higher education institutions in these states to work together to improve the health of our residents.”

To this end, Maddock and John Spengler, PhD, JD, also from the School of Public Health, brought together a planning group of 25 thought leaders, content specialists and academic leaders in health from SEC universities to focus on actionable ways to improve health in the South.

Recurring themes were diversity and recognition of health disparities in the South, the importance of education and prevention, marketing and opportunities connected to mass gatherings and establishing collaborations among important stakeholders. The meeting has generated support for the initiative among presidents and chancellors of SEC member institutions through the signing of declarations that indicate a symbolic gesture of support for both the Champions for Health in the South initiative and the improvement of health on the home campus, community and state and region each university serves.

To further achieve meaningful impact, discussions are underway with the Aspen Institute’s Health, Medicine and Society Program about partnering with Texas A&M University in this endeavor. Conversations are also currently underway around promoting healthy workplaces and tobacco free campuses, developing important new collaborations between extension and public health, and addressing health disparities through strategic partnerships and creative thinking.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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