Mississippi leads the nation in poverty, as well as most poor-health measures. One expert speaking in the state today says it is impossible to separate the two. Poverty becoming an even bigger factor in chronic health problems like obesity and diabetes.
Dwayne Procter with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says any effort to improve health outcomes in Mississippi must also look at how poverty creates conditions that make it nearly impossible to be healthy.
Procter says if state leaders want to improve health outcomes they need to look at conditions that surround people in poverty like bad schools, dangerous neighborhoods, and a lack of jobs.
"Poverty is tied to inequities in income. Inequities in education. Inequities in access to quality health care. Employment, housing, safety so many factors that predetermine the outcome of different health risks," Procter said.
Procter says many of the conditions surrounding poverty can be fixed and that would help the state gain the upper hand on health.
Procter is optimistic about the chances of improvement in Mississippi but he says the state needs to make it easier to both avoid poverty AND make healthier choices.
"It will take innovation like what was just seen on a Navajo Reservation where they repealed the taxes on healthy foods. Where they repealed the takes on fruits and vegetables. As an incentive for people to buy healthy foods and cook them in a way that is health for them," Procter said.
Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation with nearly a quarter of all residents living below the poverty line.
Procter is speaking in Jackson today at a solutions to poverty conference hosted by the Mississippi Economic Policy Center.