By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
UAB leaders on Tuesday launched Live HealthSmart Alabama, a partnership between the institution, community, government, business and education agencies to tackle significant and intractable health problems in the state.
“This is indeed an exciting day for UAB, Birmingham and the state of Alabama,” said UAB President Dr. Ray Watts. “This bold initiative will elevate our state out of the bottom 10 in key health metrics, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, kidney disease and others by the year 2030. What that really translates to is improved health and quality of life for all of our citizens.”
Alabama’s population struggles with chronic health challenges. The state has the highest prevalence of stroke, the third-highest rate of diabetes and kidney disease, and consistently high levels of heart disease and obesity.
Fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity levels are low. Together, these factors, along with many others, have placed Alabama at 48th in the national health rankings.
Mona Fouad, M.D., director of UAB’s Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, will serve as the leader and principal investigator for the Live HealthSmart initiative.
“Live HealthSmart is a series of practical, tested tools that can be implemented by every individual school, restaurant, business, and community based on three keys to better health, “Fouad said.
Those three keys are physical activity, good nutrition and prevention and wellness. These keys together can “turn the lives of individual people and our communities around… through intentional, meaningful changes through our policies, systems and environments which can impact the everyday lives of people,” she said.
Physical activity will increase the ability of people to move in healthy ways whether it is through walking, the creation of sidewalks and green spaces or through the adoption of physical activity in schools and work places, making it easier for residents to move more, she said.
Live HealthSmart Alabama — the inaugural UAB Grand Challenge project — was created to inspire the entire state to address its challenging health problems. A three-year, $2.7 million institutional investment was awarded to launch the initiative and enable the team to set its course for the next decade.
The Live HealthSmart Alabama team aims to tackle the state’s health challenges through a holistic approach, targeting nutrition and physical activity, along with prevention and wellness, with policy, system and environmental improvements.
“We believe that this will serve as a model for the nation. It is fitting that we embark on this historic effort during our 50th anniversary year,” said Watts. “As we celebrate the spirit of innovation and collaboration that has propelled UAB for five decades those same streaks in their full measure will enable us to achieve our Grand Challenge over the coming decade. UAB will invest $1 million a year for the first three years to initiate this project and get it launched in a powerful way.”
Town hall meetings have already taken place in several Birmingham-area neighborhoods and the campaign will be kicked off in four demonstration zones that include East Lake, Bush Hills, Kingston and North Titusville. The campaign will expand to other areas in Birmingham and around the state.
Fouad said nutrition is another key part of the program.
“Too many people lack access to nutritious foods. We heard we have communities living in what is called food deserts,” said Fouad. “We need to facilitate access to healthy foods through local farms and gardens, food trucks that visit areas that don’t have a grocery store with fresh produce… we can improve the ability of our citizens to make healthy food choices.”
In prevention and wellness, Fouad said people don’t learn of their illnesses until it is too late. With the challenge, they strive to change that.
“We celebrate the newly designated Birmingham Health District, now we can expand this exceptional work through institution and work place health screenings improving access to health clinics, smoking sensations and wellness programs,” said Fouad. “Live HealthSmart works by empowering communities to adopt the keys of physical activity, good nutrition and wellness and prevention on a broad scale. The Health Smart team will provide medical resources as we partner with agencies, businesses, individuals and healthcare systems through the state in order to move the needle of Alabama’s health.”
Visit www.uab.edu/LiveHealthSmartAL to learn more.