MCG students define health disparities in south central Georgia

Fourteen students in the MD Program at the Medical College of Georgia participated in a class study recently investigating public health in south central Georgia; specifically South Health District, one district within the Georgia Department of Public Health. The study focused on identifying disparities that differentiated the District from the State as a whole, and ways that individual counties were disproportionally affected by health conditions from other counties in the area. MCG stu

The group used County Health Rankings that were released earlier this year by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ( for their project. Criteria for the health rankings were based on health outcomes (morbidity and mortality) and health factors (behaviors, clinical care, social and economic, and physical environment).

They also worked closely with the District Health Director, Dr. William Grow so he could, “give his thoughts as to the ‘why’ behind some of our findings, as well as make some suggestions on how different problems might be solved and which approaches would be most effective for South Health District, specifically,” stated John Shapiro, MCG medical student.

Overall, the group found that the counties share a lot of similarities, but there were health factors that set them apart. “While we can’t know all the reasons or details why counties differ, we tried to come up with hypotheses to explain those differences that we found,” states Shapiro. “Some explanations were more obvious but there were some correlations we were surprised to find, prompting a re-evaluation of our assumptions.”

Some areas of concern found for the District were higher obesity rates across all counties when compared to the State, along with a higher percentage of physical inactivity except in Echols County. High teen birth rates and high numbers of uninsured people, as well as a lack of physicians were also noted.

Social behaviors that were emphasized in the study were high unemployment rates in most counties, the high rate of children in poverty and the low median household income in all counties. The students found that rural districts are more prone to specific health outcomes such as heart disease, stroke and lung cancer when compared to urban areas. The study notes that urban settings can provide better access to health care as well as having greater opportunities for social support, among others.

Shapiro explains that after being involved in this project he feels medical graduates will feel more comfortable getting involved in community care and county, district, or state-wide initiatives. “Hopefully, this kind of public health exposure will help to improve communication and collaboration among physicians for the improved health of the state.”

MCG Student Presentation 2013

Students: Meryl Abrams, David Berndt, Molly Cinderella, Ashley Davis, Trace Deighan, Jada Fambrough, Stephen Hammett, Sarah Jansen, Neil Patel, Taylor Phelps, John Shapiro, Pat Simmons, Benjamin Sookhoo and Allesyn Young