Southern hospitality is a staple in the South. Southerners pride themselves on making sure people feel acknowledged and welcome. Most southern homes have welcome mats and dinner tables with at least one extra seat to make guests feel at home and appreciated. When visiting someone in the south, you can expect to be welcomed in, offered a seat, a drink, and even a meal. It’s quite common to hear the phrase “make yourself at home.” This is an invitation for guests to relax and feel comfortable. But, despite the warm welcome and open invitations, the South is plagued with many issues that cause the region to rank poorly among the rest of the nation. Statistics have shown that the southern states rank as some of the unhealthiest states in America. Namely, Mississippi is infamous for consistently ranking in the top 5 among these states. Although many factors contribute to such a plight, we will highlight three things that cause Mississippi to be ranked as one of the unhealthiest states. We’ll explore the aspects of the Mississippi culture that is rooted in unhealthy diets, the high rates of smokers in Mississippi, and the high instances of uninsured Mississippians.
If you’ve ever had a classic southern meal in the Magnolia State, you’ll understand firsthand that food is a huge deal in Mississippi. No event or gathering is complete without a delicious spread of some sort. Whether it’s breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner, the food is usually the main attraction. A quick Google search reveals that “fried chicken, fried okra, biscuits and gravy, collard greens, catfish and cornbread are mainstays of Mississippi cuisine.” Some of the most popular dishes are often fried in high-fat oils and covered in sauces and gravies made of fat renderings. Vegetables are often prepared with fat drippings from pork as the main source of seasoning. Breads such as cornbread and homemade biscuits are not complete without the glaze of real butter melting on top. Desserts like pound cakes and peach cobblers are usually the grand finale of these tasty feasts. And don’t forget, sweet tea and sodas with loads of added sugar are often used to wash everything down. Though this may sound very delicious, eating like this over time can be very harmful to one’s health. And to make matters worse, many Mississippians smoke a cigarette after enjoying a classic southern meal.
Smoking has been proven to be a lethal habit and is the top cause of preventable deaths in America. Yet, statistics show that Mississippi still has one of the highest rates of cigarette smokers in the country. A combination of high rates of tobacco use and looser smoking policies are thought to be the reason that cancer caused by smoking kills more people from the south than anywhere else. Researchers believe factors such as low income, depression & anxiety, and targeted marketing tactics from the tobacco industry contribute to the high rates of smokers found in southern states such as Mississippi. Rural areas were often targets for smoking campaigns. Children are exposed to nicotine very often in these areas as well. There is a direct correlation between level of education and income, geographic location, and smoking rates. Rural areas in the South often rank very low in education and income levels and very high in smoking rates. For example, according to the CDC, Mississippi ranks among the top 3 states in the south in smoking rates. This is very alarming data when considering all the research that has linked smoking to cancer-related deaths and other potentially deadly lung diseases. As an added disadvantage, smokers in Mississippi have a higher chance of being uninsured.
Health insurance is a necessity for all Americans. Having regular health can screenings help with early detection, which can greatly increase the risk of surviving potentially harmful diseases and conditions. Health insurance coverage is one of the main ways to ensure Americans receive such screenings and other life-saving plans and treatments to combat health problems. Unfortunately, statistics show that over 13% of Mississippians were still uninsured as of 2019. The Affordable Care Act seeks to decrease this number and has helped make great strides in making affordable healthcare coverage accessible to all Americans, but there is still a great disparity between insured and uninsured Americans based on geographical regions. Income is directly related to having health insurance in that many bankruptcies are filed due to mounting debt from healthcare costs. With so many variables affecting one’s lifestyle, it is alarming that so many Americans, particularly in southern states like Mississippi, remain uninsured. In a region where unhealthy habits yet prevail, having no health insurance coverage increases the risks of long-term illnesses and deaths that are otherwise preventable. Northern states such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island are considered healthier states, and they have a much lower rate of uninsured citizens than southern states like Mississippi and Georgia.
In conclusion, there are many factors that contribute to Mississippi’s poor health rankings compared to other states. Mississippi has a rich culture and a tradition of family and community gatherings. People are revered for being gracious hosts and making others feel welcome. Despite lower education levels and income compared to many other states, Mississippians pride themselves on comfort. Though soothing and satisfying, Comfort foods can increase the risk of hypertension and diabetes. Making someone feel at home could also mean allowing them to enjoy a cigarette indoors. However, secondhand smoking can be lethal for children and adults. Mississippians are often divided on implementing affordable health insurance initiatives but having no health insurance can prove detrimental and even fatal for many people who don’t have access. Many diseases and deaths are preventable with healthier lifestyles. Mississippians can benefit from finding healthier alternatives for enjoying the delicious food that is a staple for the state. Stricter smoking policies and making affordable healthcare coverage more accessible can prove to be a lifeline for many citizens.
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