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Op-Ed on Community Health

While United Way, in partnership with many members of our community, has taken important steps to

improve the health of our community, the County Health Rankings make it clear that there is much more

we can do to help Madison County residents lead healthier lives.

The Rankings, released every year by United Way in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson

Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, show us that where we live

matters to our health and that not everyone has the chance to reach their full health potential. The

Rankings show us that good health is influenced by many factors beyond medical care, including jobs,

housing, education, poverty, and more.

We know that there are areas where we can improve. For example, 43% of our children live in single-

parent households and 29% of our children live in poverty.

The good news is we are doing something about it. This year, United Way partnered with the Jackson-

Madison County School System to bring The Leader in Me program to three schools. These schools are

teaching our most vulnerable population to Be Proactive, to Begin with the End in Mind, to Put First

Things First, to Think Win-Win, to Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood, to Synergize, and to

Sharpen the Saw by always improving. The program, based on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly

Effective People, teaches 21 st -century leadership and life skills to students and creates a culture of student

empowerment based on the idea that every child can be a leader. By also partnering with programs to

provide quality afterschool care, we are helping to ensure that our future leaders are equipped to lead the

next generation and are making an effort to break the vicious poverty cycle.

We are encouraged by improvements we’ve made in a number of factor areas, including our relatively

low percentage of 16-24 year-olds who are neither working nor in school. This shows that we are

engaging our youth in pursuing education or finding them ways to make a living. We are also encouraged

by the number of social opportunities available through various organizations. A 2001 study found that

the health risk associated with social isolation is similar to the risk of cigarette smoking. Researchers

have argued that social trust is enhanced when people belong to voluntary groups and organizations. Our

plethora of churches, social clubs, civic organizations and non-profits add to the quality of life in Madison


United Way understands that continued action is needed and that no single sector can tackle the barriers

to health without leveraging the knowledge, talents, and resources of others. It takes

everyone—nonprofits, businesses, policymakers, and individuals—working together to improve health

and ensure that people in Madison County and West Tennessee thrive. To live better, we must live


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