Thursday, July 27, 2006
State health officer gives advice
By SUE WATSON
Brian Amy, Mississippi state health officer, opened a meeting hosted by Alliance Charitable Foundation Thursday and said a healthy lifestyle and moderation are key to combating chronic illnesses.
He was in Holly Springs to offer support for private groups and government entities in creating an environment for healthy living.
Amy presented his view of what the roles of the state and federal health agencies are, what they can and cannot do and how local communities can do more about health issues.
Statistics show Mississippi lags behind most states and Marshall County lags behind most counties in the state in addressing many chronic illnesses, according to Linda Turner, director of Alliance Charitable Foundation, a public non-profit group organized to address health issues in Marshall County.
Amy said identifying diseases and screening people for diseases are not enough; that health care costs could be lowered if local groups partnered with the state health department to educate and do something about the lack of jobs and economic opportunities, which he said are key to creating an environment conducive to healthy living.
His speech dealt more with preventive measures rather than cures.
Some conditions cannot be whisked away with a pill, Amy said, pointing to himself as an example of an overweight American.
“It has to be done gradually, get fruit juices in school (vending) machines, build walking trails and lead the way,” he said. “Walk more, eat less, exercise and do everything that will kill you in moderation.”
Amy said the state health department, with only 2,200 employees and a thin budget, cannot do everything that needs to be done to address health problems.
“But we have people who can walk with you, partner with you, take your blood pressure and do a lot of things,” he said. “We need you to walk, too, to pitch in, too, to tell us what is not working.
“Everything in government is spread a little thin.”
Government groups like the health department work on problems they think they can solve, such as eradicating specific communicable diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea, and tuberculosis and by preventing infectious diseases with immunization, he said.
“Our (health departments’) focus is not on health care or health care financing, but creating an environment for health care,” he said.
Knowing your numbers with regard to chronic conditions like high cholesterol, is important, but there are other things patients can do about indicators of chronic conditions besides taking pills, he said. A high cholesterol number usually means there are other underlying conditions besides just cholesterol, he said.
“What are you personally going to do about it besides a pill?” he asked. “We have to take a personal interest (in our health) and practice what we preach. Doctors and nurses need to be out there in the community.”
Several times Amy restated his view that diet, exercise and moderation are key to reducing the numbers of people with chronic illnesses across the state as well as the nation.
“They are not going (to want) to walk a mile in this weather,” he said. “It’s a hard sell.”
Linda Logan, with the Alliance Charitable Foundation, agreed that it is easy to check the numbers and to test for things like blood sugar, and that people who are overweight know it.
“But even thin people, joggers, think they are healthy and can have hidden health problems,” she said.
Holly Springs Alderman at Large Tim Liddy asked Amy what he sees local elected officials doing about health care as he travels over the state - are they proactive or reactive?
Amy said agencies and officials are too concerned about providing money for health care but do not look to see what the results are after the money is spent.
He said agencies should look for areas to invest money in that produce the desired result and “make sure the precious little money is put to the best use.”
“We are trying to make sure it is, but we can’t look at it because no one in Mississippi has looked at the statistics - they have looked at the numbers,” he said.
Offering examples, he said, “You can’t fix heart disease, but you can change immunization rates.
“The health department can’t change the economics - illness has more to do with (lack of adequate) jobs and education,” he said. “There’s nothing special about genetics. If everybody had a job and education we would have the results they have in New Hampshire.”
He said jobs and education are where local communities should get to work to improve health in the area and state.
“Some of the biggest detriments of health are jobs and education, and that is where you can help,” he said.
The department of health puts its resources to decrease the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis and on immunization, he said.
The number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis are going down, and while Marshall County has the highest rate in the state, the numbers have improved, Amy said.
“We are not really funded by a national program; most of the money comes from the state,” he said. “We can do some things, but because it got better all over the U.S., we have less than 100 cases of syphilis and of tuberculosis a year.”
With regard to obesity, the health department can do little, he said.
“We are not talking about obesity when there are 200 million people (Americans who are obese),” he said. “We can target these cases of communicable disease and eliminate those.”
He said the state health department has gotten better at tracking the source of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and T.B.
And caseworkers are being trained to keep their ears and eyes open to diseases they are not specifically tracking, and that has improved the results.
“We want to eliminate, not just address, communicable diseases like sexually transmitted diseases and T.B.,” he said.
Liddy asked if anyone has studied the relationship between climate (weather) and health.
“We have a lot of hot and cold here,” he said.
Amy said it is a climate problem, but not the kind Liddy was thinking of.
“It’s the climate you have that the governor and the legislature and the feds create,” he said. “We need to induce a climate where people are encouraged to be healthy, not (more) health care.”
Amy said children are not playing at school anymore.
“It’s a climate of sitting at a computer and spreading out in a chair; that’s the climate we need to talk about,” he said. “If we want health, those are the kinds of climate we ought to create.”
Counties should encourage people to eat healthy, drink good water and be safe, he said.
“We are here to partner on those.”
Supervisor George Zinn asked if the health department has enough inspectors to cover food, water and sewage.
“No,” Amy said. “We are 1,200 inspections behind because environment is paid from state funds and nobody wants the fees to go up to pay these people who make less than someone who teaches first grade. So testers would not stay and we have trained and are catching up.”
At one time health department workers had to wait for someone to retire or die before they could advance, he said. But that has changed because advancement now is based on training and certification.
About 120 inspectors do 40,000 restaurant inspections and handle 5,000 waste water complaints a year, he said.
“When you look at the numbers, it’s really staggering,” he said.
He said if the county expects to grow, more inspectors are needed, because they give out waste water permits and do restaurant inspections.
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