BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Dr. Joseph B. McCormick, regional dean of UT Health School of Public Health in Brownsville, says that investment in the health of Valley residents will not only bring physical dividends, but economic ones as well.

In a radio interview with KURV 710’s Sergio Sanchez and Tim Sullivan, McCormick says that 75 percent of all cancers, diabetes and heart disease are preventable through changes in lifestyle. Cities that provide walking paths, biking trails and other health-promoting features benefit their communities in the long run, even when faced with seemingly more practical civic projects.

“Just like any investment, you have to make the investment in order to get the return,” said McCormick. “And, those people who think that potholes are more important than their health – what can I say? This is a long-term important investment.”

At last week’s Rio Grande Valley Regional Convening in Brownsville, McCormick shared the data that he and his team collected to measure the burden of chronic disease in our region. They found that 27.6 percent of adults had diabetes and another 32 percent had pre-diabetic signs. Half the population had high cholesterol, 31 percent had high blood pressure and 68 percent had one or more of these conditions. McCormick also noted that cancer is the leading cause of death in Hispanics – something not too often talked about.

But, despite the prevalence of disease, only 42 percent of the population has any kind of insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid. McCormick says that poverty – a major social determinant of health – is the main reason for the lack of health coverage. This leads to people using hospital emergency services for their primary care, driving up costs. McCormick stated that the economic impact of diabetes in the RGV, alone, was in the billions.

“If we could reduce the burden of obesity and diabetes by 10 percent, we’d have enough money … to solve all of these problems,” said McCormick. “As it is, the funds … go to the radial dialysis units that go on 24/7, they’ll go to spending … hundreds of millions of dollars taking care of people who have conditions that should be prevented.”

McCormick also suggested the potential loss of investment and expansion in our area due to the poor health of Valley residents.

“Imagine if you were an employer and you were coming to the Valley to start a business, and somebody said ‘you know, what? Fifty percent of the people are obese and 28 percent have diabetes,’” said McCormick. “That’s a big cost if you’re going to start a business because you’re going to have to be paying their health insurance.”

To more clearly illustrate his research and expand on his points, Dr. McCormick will be the keynote speaker at Futuro RGV’s Solutions Symposium, “Solving the Health Care Conundrum,” at the McAllen Convention Center on Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 6 p.m.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Dr. Joseph B. McCormick speaking at the Rio Grande Valley Regional Convening summit held at UT-Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville.