The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Centers for Disease Control Survey: Delta Has Worst Obesity Rates in America

Posted on July 23, 2008 at 03:04 PM

We all know that the Mississippi Delta region unfortunately has a severe problem with obesity. A recent survey of the Centers for Disease Control drove home just how depressing the situation is, as the CDC demonstrated that five of the key states in the Delta Regional Authority area have the worst adult obesity prevalence in America: Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

We have to recognize we have a severe problem before we can solve it, but while we should be concerned about it we should also recognize and support the organizations that are actively engaged in attacking the problem. In that regard we would like to urge everyone to support the efforts of the Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit (previously called Delta NIRI), and the DRA’s Healthy Delta Program. We know many other organizations are also involved in this effort, so we are just mentioning these two as a starting point for those who want to get more involved in this issue. Summaries of both these initiatives are included below in this message.

First, here is the depressing summary of our states’ rankings as having the worst obesity problems in America, along with the percentage of obese adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control July, 2008 report;

  1. Mississippi: 32%

  2. Alabama: 30.3%

  3. Tennessee: 30.1%

  4. Louisiana: 29.8%

  5. Arkansas: 28.7%

Missouri was 12th at 27.5% and Kentucky was 13th at 27.4%.

We would commend the work of the Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit and the DRA’s Healthy Delta Program, which is an excellent diabetes education and prevention program. Type 2 diabetes is the fastest growing complication of obesity, and the DRA should be supported in its educational efforts to attack this problem that weakens our region’s economy and quality of life every day. Short summaries of both programs are included below, and we encourage you to go to for more information, or to for Delta NIRI.


We urge Congress and the next President to support expanded funding and activities such as Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit in sustaining efforts to improve food choices and decrease obesity. Good health and nutrition are absolutely essential for fielding a competitive workforce.

Commendation of the work of Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit (formerly called Delta NIRI): We unfortunately lead the nation in obesity in the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas, and figures in the Delta areas of these states are even worse than the statewide levels. The Delta Nutrition and Research Intervention Initiative (which recently changed its name to the Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit) has done and continues to do exemplary work in this area.

Dr. Margaret Bogle of USDA Agricultural Research Service based in Little Rock, Arkansas, Dr. Betty Monroe Kennedy of the Dietary Assessment &Food Analysis Core, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Beatrice Shelby, director of the Boys, Girls, Adults, Community Development Center based in Phillips County, Arkansas are leaders in the fight against obesity in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Betty Kennedy recently spoke at our Washington, DC Delta conference and Beatrice Shelby has been a speaker at several other Delta Caucus conferences, and there are many other grassroots leaders across the region who have been involved in Delta NIRI over the years and will continue to be in this long-term effort.

We would like to include excerpts from this brief description of Delta NIRI, which is public information found on the USDA Agricultural Research Service website at

Objective: A primary objective of the Lower Mississippi Delta Nutrition Intervention Research Initiative (previously Delta NIRI now Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit) Consortium mission being conducted in part under this cooperative agreement is to develop sustainable nutrition intervention strategies in the Lower Mississippi Delta (LMD) through community-based participatory research. This project operates in local areas in the Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana Delta.

To give an example of the beneficial activities, we will cite one of the local communities involved: Marvell, Arkansas. Beatrice Shelby and other local leaders in Phillips County are very active in this program. The specific objective of this cooperative research project is to establish and support a cooperative partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extensive Service (UA-CES) which will work with ARS and other Delta NIRI partners to coordinate, assist, design, organize, conduct, interpret, and evaluate community participatory based nutritional interventions established within the Marvell, Arkansas, community (Marvell NIRI) to evaluate nutritional health, identify nutritionally responsive problems, and develop and evaluate interventions which are sustainable at the community level.

The UA-CES appoints a Marvell NIRI Coordinator, who will be stationed in Marvell, Arkansas, to support nutrition intervention research initiatives in the Marvell community. This individual works in partnership with the Marvell NIRI and with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agriculture Research Service (ARS), and other Delta NIRI Consortium partners, to conduct, support, and facilitate nutrition interventions related to the nutritional health of the Marvell community.

Following implementation and evaluation of these nutrition intervention strategies in the Marvell community, the Delta NIRI Consortium with cooperation from the Marvell NIRI Coordinator, identifies successful intervention strategies, evaluate the impact of community participation, and determine specific characteristics of the community that contributed to intervention success.”

Again, the Marvell community is just one of the local communities involved. We urge Congress and the next President to continue and expand support for the meritorious work of Delta NIRI.

DRA’s Health Improvement and Diabetes Prevention

We believe that part of the obesity problem is related to poverty in the region, because cheaper foods often have higher fat content and are the easiest way to fill up when your money is running low. But beyond that, even more prosperous people in our region have bad dietary habits that need to be corrected.

We absolutely agree with Pete Johnson, Federal Co-Chair of the DRA, in his view that health care problems are linked to and contribute to economic issues in our region.

(This is a brief summary–more information is at At a meeting in December 2005, the Delta Regional Authority board voted to devote almost $1 million to begin a diabetes education and prevention program. The leadership of the DRA understands how important a region’s health care is to its economy. That’s why the authority wants to be a catalyst for change across the region.

Known as the Healthy Delta program, this effort attempts to bring about real change, starting with diabetes. Accountability measures are built into the effort so results can be measured. The diabetes program is designed to drive Delta residents to a call center and website so results can be tracked. The major goals of the effort are:

Educating Delta residents on the symptoms and dangers of diabetes. Getting people in the Delta region to do something about their diabetes by calling a toll-free number for more information and a referral. Using the Healthy Delta banner, the DRA hopes to later pursue broader health and wellness issues in the region. A special effort is being made to ensure the message does not miss hard-to-reach minority populations in the eight states served.

As many as two-thirds of the people with diabetes in this country don’t even know they have the disease. Each day in the United States, 4,100 people are diagnosed with diabetes. An estimated 55 people go blind each day due to the disease, and there are an average of 230 amputations per day. The cost to the country of diabetes is more than $130 billion per year. The DRA is committed to raising awareness of diabetes and its causes and then driving at-risk residents into existing systems for treatment.

“To improve the economy of our region, we must first improve the health of our workforce,” says Pete Johnson, the federal co-chairman of the DRA.