Touting a new program as the first in Texas to be directed at reducing preventable diseases, Texas A&M University officials on Tuesday announced their Healthy Texas Initiative, which will first launch with a focus on South Texas.

The initiative, which was announced at the Capitol, will be operated through A&M’s newly created Texas A&M Institute for Public Health Improvement. Also involved in the program are the Texas A&M Health Science Center and the A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

The first phase of the initiative is “Healthy South Texas 2025,” a pilot program that aims to reduce preventable diseases by 25 percent in South Texas by 2025 through educational efforts.

The focus is on preventing the most prominent diseases affecting the population in South Texas: diabetes, asthma and infectious diseases. The program will utilize the resources and research from A&M institutions. In addition to giving tips to South Texas farmers and ranchers, the pilot program will educate families on how to lead healthy lifestyles.

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“Imagine on one side of the county you would have 500 farmers meeting with extension agents talking about how to grow crops and healthier livestock, how to take care of all the assets of a farm or ranch,” said John Sharp, the chancellor of the Texas A&M University System. “And then at the same time in the same county, there are 500 moms being taught by the Health Science Center on how to grow healthier babies and prevent disease.”

Susan Ballabina, the associate director of the AgriLife Extension Service, said that to promote more healthy eating choices, the pilot program would promote mobile farmers' markets and educate residents on growing fruits and vegetables at their homes.

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, spoke at Tuesday’s announcement and stressed the importance of the health education aspects of the project for the future of not only South Texas, but the whole state. 

“To have a successful Texas, we need to focus on the education of our kids and on the health of our kids,” Hinojosa said.

Sharp added that focusing on prevention would help save billions of dollars while helping residents maintain better health.

“Once you get to a hospital with diabetes or asthma, it’s too late,” Sharp said. “We intend to intercept that before that happens.”

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Sharp said that A&M would be asking the next Legislature for $7.5 million for the initiative, predicting that over the next 10 years, the South Texas pilot program would save the state $2.5 billion in health care costs.

Brett Giroir, the CEO of the Texas A&M Health Science Center, has seen the effects of a lack of preventive care and knowledge about healthy lifestyles in his 20 years as a pediatrician, which includes time working in a pediatric intensive care unit.

“To me, this is a unique opportunity where it can really make a difference and keep people healthy, out of hospitals, happy in their families, and serving both their families and their communities in the state,” Giroir said. 

Disclosure: The Texas A&M University System and Texas A&M University are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.