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Texas A&M aims to reduce preventable diseases in South Texas

By Elena Watts
June 27, 2014 at 1:27 a.m.
Updated June 28, 2014 at 1:28 a.m.

John Sharp, chancellor of Texas A&M University, addresses members of the community in Corpus Christi about the Healthy South Texas 2025 pilot program.

Several Crossroads counties are among 26 in South Texas selected by Texas A&M University for a pilot project to reduce preventable diseases and their consequences by 25 percent by 2025.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service will work with the Texas A&M Health Science Center to develop and deliver evidence-based education and interventions that will prevent disease and improve public health, according to a news release.

Healthy South Texas 2025 is the first phase of the Healthy Texas Initiative, which is sponsored by the new Texas A&M Institute for Public Health Improvement.

AgriLife Extension Service offices are in 250 of the 254 counties in Texas, said John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System. The offices are responsible for transferring agricultural research conducted by the university to the agriculture producers.

"We're going to do the same thing with people that we do with crops and livestock," Sharp said. "We are the only organization that can do this economically because we already have offices in the counties."

The project will take health education directly to the public, bypassing drug companies, doctors and hospitals traditionally responsible for conveying the information.

The education will emphasize three preventable diseases prevalent in South Texas - diabetes, asthma and infectious disease.

Physician, nursing and pharmaceutical experts, as well as experts in other fields, will engage families with the newest, most innovative research.

Agency staff will train master wellness volunteers to help deliver the information to communities, said Susan Ballabina, associate director of program development for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

The agency seeks to make a strong connection between agriculture and health for consumers, Ballabina said. Improved access to healthy foods, including education about growing fruits and vegetables, is part of the ground-up education to create healthy communities, she said.

"Our biggest financial danger is the rising cost of Medicaid," said Sharp. "This will break the curve and bring the cost down."

The project could have a positive economic impact of $2.5 billion over the 10-year period, wrote Holly Lambert Shive, public relations manager for Texas A&M Health Science Center, in an email.

The project, which will cost $15 million over two years, will begin upon approval by the Texas Legislature in January 2015.

"We are confident based on internal work that we can cut diabetes by 25 percent in 10 years," Sharp said. "This will save billions of dollars for the families, the state and Medicaid."

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