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Partnership Tackles Obesity and Tobacco Issues in Adolescents



The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi was born as a part of the tobacco settlement, which Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore initiated in Mississippi, in 1998. It was created to address youth violence and doubled as a Boys and Girls Club in the state. Leader Sandra Shelson, who at the time worked for the Attorney General’s office, began working with this new partnership, and in Sandra’s words, “it set me on fire” and she fell in love with helping people.  

In 2004, Sandra became the executive director of The Partnership. Initially, The Partnership focused solely on tobacco intervention, but today has expanded to include educational information and awareness about tobacco and obesity. With the growing obesity trends, The Partnership has decided to look at applying the tobacco prevention policy tactics to obesity policies and tackling the growing trend that way.  

Today, The Partnership is using their already established network and programs to teach children about obesity and its dangers, prevention tactics, and nutrition information. They have a registered dietician, school gardens, government relations director at the local and national levels, the organization also does policy work for tobacco and obesity, and provides avenues for physical activity.  Sandra said that they have seen great success so far, especially with the kids going home to “teach up” to their parents and older siblings. “We encourage them to go home and play with their family, and teach them what they learned at the program that day.”  

About a year ago, The Partnership received a grant from the USDA to establish a Farm to School program, in an effort to help farmers overcome barriers with educators, and show the success of a farm to school program so that more would be established. According to Sandra, they are currently working with the whole effort behind Farm to School to congeal the process, and take that program to the next level. 

The Partnership also hosts Just Have a Ball, a program that was created by two kids who saw the growing obesity rates in Mississippi, and saw a way to help alleviate it. Sandra said, “these kids were talking to their mom, and they said ‘you just need a ball and just go out and play.’ We need to remember to tap into the natural proclivity that kids have to play. They started getting balls donated and they gave them to schools. The program quickly outgrew the kids' garage setup, and they asked us to take it over. Now, we go into an elementary and do a high level and fun program. We teach kids about how much sugar is in drinks that they like and in foods such as ketchup, and we teach them how long they have to work out to burn off the calories from the sugar. We tell them why it's important for them to be active, and at the end of the program, each kid gets a playground ball. Today, we do this in 8 to 10 week programs. We do the Presidential Fitness Test at the beginning and at the end to see if there is any improvement. We are hoping that this will show the importance of physical activity and the correlation to academic performance.” 

Another program The Partnership supports is Access to Healthy and Affordable Foods. Sandra heard about some of The Food Trust programs, and encouraged them to help in Mississippi. “We pulled together a group of grocers and business people, and members of the public health committee community, and formed the task force. We talked about the difficulty of bringing having grocery stores into underserved areas,” she said.

According to Sandra, the number one recommendation by the group was to put into place a Healthy Food Financing Initiative. Currently, the bill doesn't have a financing component in it, and the Partnership is working at the grassroots levels to promote this. They are also addressing the food deserts in Mississippi, and are raising awareness about the lack of grocery stores in certain areas.