Chronic disease runs rampant in Alabama

Published 8:33 am Sunday, March 3, 2024

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By Andrea Burroughs

The speaker for the Feb. 12 Rotary Club meeting was Teresa Shufflebarger with Live Healthsmart Alabama.

Shufflebarger is originally from Alabama and said it was important to her to be a part of something that might make Alabama better. According to Shufflebarger, Dr. Ray Watts, president of UAB, put forth a challenge to the UAB community in 2019 requesting their help with some of the medical issues that Alabama faces.

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“With that challenge came some seed funding to get that initiative off the ground. Over 70 different applications came in, and the inaugural grand challenge winner was Live Healthsmart Alabama,” said Shufflebarger.

Live Healthsmart Alabama (LHSA) is a transformational movement to make good health simple in Alabama. Health is a complex equation, dealing not only with the provision of medical care, but with a broad series of factors impacting the lives of individuals and neighborhoods. These factors include zip code, income, education, race/ethnicity, family history and many other issues.

A large part of Shufflebarger’s presentation was on the health problems that “run rampant in Alabama.” Alabama ranks in the bottom five percent in nearly every measurable health category. When it comes to health indicators, from obesity to strokes, from healthy eating to exercise, Alabama ranks among the lowest in the nation.

Shufflebarger said that what LHSA identified is that chronic disease is a major problem across the state.

“If we could change chronic disease in Alabama, we might get to where we are not at the bottom of those rankings,” said Shufflebarger.

Shufflebarger said they identified four areas of chronic disease in obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.

“In Alabama, fourteen percent of us have diabetes. We are second only to West Virginia,” said Shufflebarger. “One in three of us is obese, and over forty percent of us have either or both high blood pressure or high cholesterol.”

According to a pamphlet Shufflebarger passed out, around 23,000 lives could be saved every year by more effectively preventing and treating chronic disease. Chronic disease also has an economic impact at $60.2 billion of lost economic productivity, the highest in the country.

Shufflebarger named four strategies for change in gradually becoming healthier. Eating well and having access to nutritious foods, physical activity, prevention and wellness through screenings, education and counseling, and education of what it means to be healthy and how to stay healthy.

For more information on Live Healthsmart Alabama, contact Shufflebarger at, or visit