LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton and a panel of health and business professionals told an assembly Thursday that it will take a cultural change to instill healthy habits across the people of central Arkansas.
Clinton headed the panel to discuss his foundation’s Health Matters Initiative and how to bring about changes in the community at large, as opposed to simply relying on medical professionals to try to inspire their patients.
“We have a lot of challenges, I think we all recognize that,” Clinton said to a crowd of about 150 people at the Clinton Presidential Center.
While Little Rock is generally prosperous, the larger central Arkansas region shows some dismal statistics, such as having 23 percent of children living in poverty. In Pulaski County, 55 percent of children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
The group collaborated with more than 175 people in central Arkansas in hope of building community efforts aimed at improving the health of people in all demographics.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Dan Rahn noted the state’s effort to improve outcomes among hospital patients. Avoiding readmissions has saved money while providing more effective treatments, he said.
Rahn said education is the key to getting people to change habits.
Jayme Mayo, the wellness director at Nabholz Construction, said the company gives her time to talk to other businesses about how they can institute wellness programs. Nabholz, which has 1,000 employees, offers bonuses to workers for meeting wellness goals that include not smoking and staying trim.
Clinton singled out for praise the Legislature’s approval of an expansion of the Medicaid program, which is to bring private health insurance to 200,000 state residents who didn’t have health coverage.
Organizers distributed a “blueprint” for turning ideas into action. Among its suggestions are better education about not using tobacco and detecting indications of drug or alcohol abuse. Access to fresh and healthy food, wellness policies that emphasize physical activity and sexual health programs are also among the group’s goals.