The healthiest city in Mississippi is on the Coast, according to a new ranking.
The Blue Cross & Blue Shield Foundation of Mississippi last week picked Moss Point to join the likes of Brookhaven, Tupelo and Starkvillle — past winners — as Mississippi’s Healthiest Hometown for 2017.
The foundation has been picking winners since 2010 and has awarded $700,000 in grants to winners and runners-up.
Moss Point will receive $50,000 for the honor and plans to spend it on the Sue Ellen Recreation Center off Martin Luther King Jr. Street.
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Runners-up will receive $25,000. They are Meridian, Hernando and Mantachie.
A citywide smoking ban, innovative outdoor gym equipment, solidly encouraging recreation and a Saturday farmer’s market all helped Moss Point earn the distinction.
One critical piece of the puzzle to be considered for the award is a citywide ban on smoking, which new Mayor Mario King helped institute when he was in high school in 2006.
King said he had asthma and a group of students held a sit-in at the Barnhill’s restaurant on Mississippi 63 because it allowed smoking. They were not only able to convince the restaurant to set up a no-smoking section, but also to eventually get a citywide ban on smoking.
The group, under the guidance of its high school vocational technology teacher, received a $5,000 grant through the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi that helped them to push for the smoke-free city ordinance.
Enforcement of the smoke-free law has improved in recent years.
King said he plans to take the $50,000, leverage it with $160,000 in federal funds in the Recreation Department and other money, for a total of $215,000 for the city to spend on the Sue Ellen center.
He also sees a partnering with the Singing River Health System, which now has a day set aside to focus on Moss Point health, to help with setting up a public gym at Sue Ellen.
“This is something we can build on,” King said.
One major innovation Moss Point offers is three outdoor fitness sites around town that use Greenfields outdoor gym equipment.
The equipment was state-of-the-art a few years ago and Moss Point was the first city to have the equipment installed along walking paths and tennis courts on rubber outdoor mats.
Moss Point also has a downtown public kayak launch, a half-mile lighted walking track and a fully equipped Riverfront Recreation Center and gym.
“When it comes to health and wellness,” Recreation Director Chad Smith said, “we’re rockin’.”
The Healthy Hometown contest was established to encourage healthy lifestyles at the community level and offer money to cities and towns that “demonstrated progress and a high level of commitment to a healthy culture.”
Criteria for the ranking:
▪ Promotion and support community exercise
▪ Opportunities for healthy nutrition
▪ Supporting healthy learning environments in school
Judges for the 2017 award:
▪ Sue Polis, director of the National League of Cities in Washington
▪ Paula Little, assistant superintendent and supervisor of instruction for the Clinton County School District in Kentucky
▪ Robert J. Gates, project director for the Trinity Educators Development Corp. in the Mississippi Delta