The Natchez Democrat recently ran a story about how a Humana Foundation grant is helping residents of Adams County, Miss., with their weight and their health.

Last year, the Humana Foundation provided a $250,000 charitable grant to the City of Natchez to fund and support a new diabetes and heart disease prevention program in Natchez and Adams County, where Humana is working with the Clinton Foundation to improve the health of that community by 20 percent by 2020.

A group of residents has graduated from the program, collectively losing more than 300 pounds and learning a lot about their health in the process, the newspaper reported.

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By Jodi Belgard

Natchez, Miss., resident Helen Brooks has been concerned about her county’s health for years. Her position at the Alcorn State University Ag Extension gave her an opportunity to work first-hand with her neighbors in the daily battle to eat healthier food.

The Natchez Farmer’s Market opened in 1999 with a few local farmers selling their produce, but the market has seen a spike in popularity in recent years.

The market is home to 16 growers from Mississippi and Louisiana, with eight of the farmers coming on board in the past two months.

Brooks, who is in charge of the market, said she felt a call to action about five years ago.
“At the time, we were adjacent to the fattest county in the country – Jefferson County,” she said. “That’s when I started pushing healthier (eating habits) to help with the (Adams County) obesity rate.”

That call to action is much like the one Humana and the Clinton Health Matters Initiative (CHMI) felt when they partnered to develop a blueprint to improve the health of Adams County residents.

When Humana reached out to Brooks to discuss its goal of improving health 20 percent by 2020, Brooks said it was a perfect fit.

“We want to be here for our grandkids and kids,” Brooks said. “In order to do that, it has to be a collaborative effort. It was like a marriage made in heaven. Everybody’s on the same page.”

Brooks wants to do her part to educate the residents of Adams County. She holds classes through the Alcorn State Ag Extension to teach children and adults how to read nutrition labels and how to cultivate a garden.

A few years ago she implemented a three-prong health and wellness program that focuses on nutrition, physical fitness and the creation of a community garden. The program now stretches from Natchez to Vicksburg – about 75 miles – and the partnership with Humana and CHMI only stands to strengthen the program.

Brooks’ goals for the farmer’s market are in tune with those of Humana and CHMI.
According to the blueprint, Humana and CHMI will work together with residents over the next five years to “implement a farm-to-table movement by partnering with the faith-based community and in partnership with existing local growers and regional distributors to establish a regional fresh food distribution network.”

In this aspect, Brooks is ahead of the curve. She helped to establish the first community garden at Mount Bethel Church about three years ago.

When Brooks isn’t teaching classes or traveling the region talking to Mississippians about the benefits of healthy eating, she spends her days at the farmer’s market talking to customers about the health benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

“A lot of customers want fresh produce because that’s how they ate growing up,” Brooks said. “Now, I see people wanting it because it’s healthy. We have a lot of juicers who buy their blueberries and peaches from us. I’ve seen health improvements in many of my regular customers.”

Rodney Matthews of Matthews Farms across the Mississippi River in Ferriday, La., delivers vegetables to the market at least three times a week.

Matthews, 81, has farmed all his life. He received a degree in agriculture from Southern University in Baton Rouge, and he’s put it to good use.

He said he’s noticed the rising popularity of homegrown produce, as well.

Keeping residents connected to the soil is one thing that keeps them coming back.
Natchez resident Brenda Bath is a longtime customer of the market.

“The produce is delicious,” she said. “You can’t get it anywhere else.”

Her favorite?

“It’s a toss-up between tomatoes and squash when they’re in season – if you can get them.”


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By Jodi Belgard

Humana and the Clinton Health Matters Initiative (CHMI) kicked off a collaborative health improvement effort in and around Natchez, Miss., with two recent community events. The joint campaign is tied to Humana’s 2020 goal – to improve the health of communities it serves 20 percent by 2020.

Months of research and discussion with community leaders culminated in a Blueprint for Action – a plan for the residents of Adams County to achieve specific health goals in the next five years. Humana and CHMI unveiled the blueprint at a luncheon, which featured a panel of four local residents who are invested in this goal for their community, either through their own healthy living experience or through their desire to see their friends and neighbors simply do better.

“This initiative, the way we are embarking upon it, is really your initiative,” Humana 2020 Leader Emily Allen Kirby told community stakeholders at the luncheon. “Health is local and solutions to health are also local. Health is not easy. It takes work. You have to achieve it. We know that better health can make us better people and help us live better lives.”

The blueprint, based on data from the County Health Rankings model as well as local data, focuses on nine areas of need in Adams County, including physical activity, healthy eating and food quality, quality of care and access to care, and education, income and employment.

“It really, at the end of the day, is about improving health indicators,” CHMI National Director Gillian Sealy said. “I hope there’s an exchange of ideas about how you can take a rural area like Adams County and highlight solutions that can be scalable in terms of making health improvements.”

Natchez resident Robert Pernell, 65, was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. After some prodding from his two daughters, he changed his eating habits, started going to the gym and reversed his diagnosis.

“It’s not hard once you start, but it would have been different if I didn’t have someone around me who loves me,” Pernell said.

Pernell is featured in an illustrated novel designed and distributed by Humana. The piece tells the stories of five Adams County residents who have changed their lives by adopting healthier habits. Humana used the comic book-style approach to make health information and inspirational stories more accessible to a variety of people.

The illustrated novel was distributed at Humana’s Fit for Life event, which included the unveiling of murals of the people featured in the novel. The event at Natchez Bluff Park featured health screenings, a fitness walk, Zumba and activities like flag football and hula hooping. The Alcorn State University Food Co-op Farmers Market also was there to educate participants about healthy food choices.

Michelle Barron, a 31-year-old teacher in Natchez, took advantage of the health screenings and Zumba.
“I feel like (the program) is a big need here,” she said, adding that she believes the biggest issue facing residents is bad nutrition. “Obviously, the unhealthy food is the cheapest,” she said.

people signing paper at table
Local residents sign up for the fitness walk that was held May 16 as part of the Fit for Life event in Natchez, Mississippi.

More than 100 people signed up for the fitness walk – some families, some friends and one group of about 20 Adams County school district employees who are working to set a good example for the county’s kids.

“This fits right in to one of our community service goals,” said Steven Richardson with the Adams County School District. “School districts across the state are being impacted by health. We want to make sure we set the example and stand out.”

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Humana and the Clinton Health Matters Initiative (CHMI), an initiative of the Clinton Foundation, will host a free “Fit For Life” launch event in Natchez, Mississippi, on Saturday, May 16.

The event, which begins at 8 a.m. at the Natchez Bluff, includes a variety of outdoor activities for all ages, free health screenings and the unveiling of five murals that were created for – and by – the local community. The murals were inspired by an illustrated novel that tells the stories of local health heroes who are living happier, more fulfilling lives after committing to positive change in their everyday lives. Copies of the illustrated novel will be distributed at the event.

The Natchez “Fit For Life” event is designed to kick-start Humana and CHMI’s common goal of helping the Natchez-Adams County community improve its health 20 percent by 2020. It is the first of many programs planned for the community over the next several months to encourage healthy decisions. More information can be found on the Visit Natchez website and this news release.

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