The Initiative

Help us transform public health into a stronger system that offers every Missouri resident the opportunity for a healthier life.

The #HealthierMO grassroots initiative seeks to positively impact the health of Missouri residents by transforming our current public health system to a stronger, sustainable, culturally relevant and responsive system that can meet the challenges of our diverse communities. Phase one of this multi-phase initiative seeks to engage stakeholders from across the state in identifying what is working well and where we have opportunity for change. Stakeholders will work together to design evidence-informed strategies and develop an action plan. The initiative does not propose a quick fix, but rather advocates for long-term, system-wide change that will transform the future of public health in Missouri and offer every resident the opportunity for a healthier life.

Graphic that depicts the essential core public health functions.

What is Public Health?

Primary care treats people after they become sick, but public health focuses on prevention. Primary care looks at individual health, while public health addresses population health. Public health provides core services like communicable disease prevention and control, injury prevention, family health, and environmental health. Individual local public health departments in Missouri also offer a vast range of other programs and services, based on needs in their communities.

Primary care, public health, and community partners can work well together to address Missouri's health care needs. Together they can advocate for policy change, the use of evidence-based models, and outcome-driven programs and services. Together they can affect population health change that offers a healthier future for all Missouri residents.

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Photo of a nurse giving a young girl an immunization.

To have a stronger, more sustainable public health system, it will take local agencies working collaboratively together in ways that we have not thought of before – sharing resources and funding streams so that we all have a strong agency to provide services in our communities.

Michelle Morris, Administrator, Polk County Health Center, Bolivar, MO

Graph showing the increase in obesity rates in Missouri since 1990.

Current Situation

  • Missouri has a complex public health system, with 115 autonomous local public health agencies, a state health department, academic institutions, and multiple professional organizations
  • Missouri has great diversity in access to care, health insurance status, food environments, and opportunities for physical exercise
  • Missouri ranks last in the nation in per capita spending on public health services, spending only $5.88 per person each year1
  • Missouri spends nearly $7,000 per person in health care costs each year, exceeding more than half of the other states' spending2
  • Missouri ranks in the lowest 10 states in the nation in health indicators like adult smoking, violent crime, cancer deaths, cardiovascular deaths, and child and adolescent immunizations5
Photo of a teen-age girl visiting with her school counselor.

Opportunities to Improve

  • In a recent survey public health leaders in Missouri agreed that now is the time to move forward with improving the public health system
  • Designing a system that connects health and social services to address gaps and connect patients with programs that meet their needs could result in significant financial savings within 10 years
  • Every $1 of funding invested in proven, evidence-based community prevention programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and reduce tobacco use leads up to a $5.60 return3
  • Every $1 of funding invested in substance abuse prevention achieves up to a $34 return4
Photo of McDonald County Health Department staff showing a young family how to safely install a car seat for their child.

We have gaps in funding, lack a consistent definition of public health, and need universal messaging about the value of public health. We also need training and workforce development, along with public education, if we want to have a public health system that has the ability to adapt to changing community health needs and improve the health of all Missourians.

Paige Behm, Administrator, McDonald County Health Department, Pineville, MO

Photo of a group of children jumping joyfully after participating in the Montgomery County Health Department's KidFit nutrition and physical exercise program.

Your Stories

Montgomery County Tackles Obesity

The Montgomery County Health Department attacked obesity in their county by bringing fresh fruits and vegetables into their communities weekly on a mobile food truck. They introduced pre-school children to vegetables like broccoli, with the help of an iguana puppet named LANA (Learning About Nutrition through Activities). They hosted a community-wide health fair and a 5K Fun Run. They launched KidFit, an interactive weekly program for kids in first through sixth grades, that included physical activity, nutrition education, and cooking instruction.

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Initiative Updates

Keeping you informed and engaged in the Transforming the Future of Public Health initiative

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Our Staff

Image of Casey Parnell Casey Parnell, MPH, MPA
Project Manager

Casey says her passion for policy and systems-level change led her to get involved with the initiative. She describes herself as an enthusiastic promoter of public health and says the optimistic and innovative nature of this initiative is exciting and inspiring. Parnell shares that her experience working with passionate and tireless public health officials and community volunteers has convinced her that Missouri can be a leader in public health.


Image of Jaci McReynolds Jaci McReynolds, MHA
Communications Coordinator

Jaci says she fell in love with public health when she entered the field in 2002. She has worked with local public health departments across the state, and says passionate staff work tirelessly to provide vital public health services in their communities. She believes the #HealthierMO initiative will empower public health stakeholders to address challenges and make Missouri a healthier place to live.

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