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MU Public Health Experts Say Strong Leadership, Urgent Action Needed to Improve Missourians' Health

Jan. 21, 2009

Story Contact:  Emily Smith, (573) 882-3346,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Last week, Democrat Jay Nixon declared “a new day for Missouri” as he was sworn into office as the 55th governor of Missouri. Nixon said he would address problems including unemployment, economic development and health care. Professors in the University of Missouri Master of Public Health (MPH) program recommend that Nixon and Missouri legislators act quickly to improve the health of Missouri’s citizens. They say that previous leadership has left room for improvement and recent vacancies created by the new administration provide opportunities to hire qualified public health professionals.

“Prevention is the key to developing Missouri’s future health strategy,” said Kristofer Hagglund, interim director of the MPH program. “The rising rates of obesity, tobacco use and type 2 diabetes in Missouri’s children and adults call for aggressive action, starting with the recruitment of highly skilled staff in the state and local public health departments.”

 In the “America’s Health Rankings 2008” from the United Health Foundation, a non-profit, private foundation dedicated to improving health, Missouri was ranked 38th out of 50 states. In a 2008 report, Trust for America’s Health, a non-profit and non-partisan organization dedicated to health, estimated that Missouri’s state public health funding was $10.20 per capita, the third lowest of 50 states. The reports revealed that in Missouri:
• The percentage of smokers is 24.5 percent.
• The percentage of obese people is 28 percent.
• There are 88.6 unnecessary hospitalizations per 1,000 Medicare enrollees.
• The percentage of people with hypertension is nearly 30 percent.
• More than 16 percent of children age 10 to 17 are obese.
• The percentage of adults with diabetes is 7.7 percent and rising.  

“Missourians need exceptional leaders who are responsible for helping to improve the health of the state’s citizens,” Hagglund said. “Leaders should combine resources from various government agencies that impact health and engage businesses and community organizations to foster positive change. Effective leadership combined with a competent and motivated public health workforce is needed immediately in order to reverse the alarming negative health trends in our state.”

Staff in the newly created MPH Program at the University of Missouri are working closely with Missouri’s public health community to train practitioners, teachers, researchers and administrators to plan, implement and evaluate programs aimed at improving the health of Missourians. MPH program faculty members have backgrounds in medicine, nursing, social work, public affairs and other health professions. Many faculty members work with administrators and public health practitioners at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the state’s 107 local public health agencies.