When Jack Reed ran for mayor of Tupelo, he listed five priorities he intended to address if elected. Not the least of these was to make Tupelo the healthiest city in Mississippi. He looked at it as something to strive for, even if there wasn’t a particular contest at the time.
“I thought we would try to accomplish the things so we could at least claim (a title if one was awarded someday),” says Reed, whose four-year term as Tupelo’s mayor ended in June 2013.
“Well, lo and behold, two years later, Blue Cross Blue Shield was giving $75,000 to the state’s healthiest cities, $50,000 for first place and $25,000 for second,” Reed says.
Tupelo finished second to Hernando in 2011, and in 2012 it was named Healthiest Hometown by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi.
Passionate About Health
This recognition came largely as a result of the Mayor’s Healthy Task Force, which continues today with a variety of programs and initiatives to encourage residents to lead healthier lifestyles.
“The task force is made up of all volunteers, just people who are passionate about healthy lifestyles and helping Tupelo exhibit and project those things that support healthy activities,” Reed says.
Initiatives include a program known as Health on a Shelf, which provides a section of healthy food options at local convenience stores; the Mayor’s Marathon, where residents agreed to walk or run 26.2 miles in a month’s time; and a team weight loss campaign, where groups from businesses or among families or friends worked as a team to shed pounds.
Involvement in the push toward making Tupelo a beacon of healthy living comes from a variety of sources. The Tupelo Parks and Recreation department has been instrumental in getting residents young and old more fit through its many traditional programs and its 19 parks.
“But as part of the Healthy Task Force, we wanted to look at things that were different from what was already in place,” says Don Lewis, director of parks and recreation. “We looked at what programs we could implement that are not traditional that would help people to get involved.”
Lewis and his staff developed a running series that allowed participants to enter four or five races throughout the year and accumulate points. In addition, his department worked with Tupelo Public Schools to ensure that all second graders were at least introduced to swimming.
“It gives them an opportunity to be put in various groups, from those afraid of the water up to the ones that knew how to swim. That has been a very good success for us.”
The organization HealthWorks! North Mississippi has also played a key role in improving the health of children throughout the region. Opened in 2009 and only the second such facility in the nation, it’s a place where kids can have fun while learning how to make wise and healthy life choices.
“Having HealthWorks! here has definitely helped,” says Donna Loden a staff person at the facility who also serves on the task force.
Find more on health in Tupelo, MS.