Where we rank

Obesity: 7th

31.6 percent of adults in South Carolina are obese, according to an August report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health, making it the seventh-most obese state in the U.S. Louisiana, with 34.7 percent of its adult population considered obese, topped the list.

Infant mortality: 9th

An average 7.4 infants out of every 1,000 born died before their first birthday in South Carolina, according to 2011 data released by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. The federal government estimates the national average infant mortality rate is 5.9 deaths per 1,000.

Behavioral health: 34th

On average, South Carolina residents reported that mental health problems made it difficult to perform work or household tasks during 4.1 days out of the previous 30. North Dakota residents reported the fewest poor mental health days — only 2.8 during a month-long period. Kentucky and Alabama tied for highest; residents in those states reported 4.8 poor mental health days per month, according to data compiled by the nonprofit group America’s Health Rankings.

The South Carolina Health Coordinating Council has no bylaws or any substantial budget to speak of.

Members have been meeting every few months for more than two years, yet they haven’t leased any office space or launched a website.

They’ve also done nothing to improve any of the state’s persistently poor health problems.

But there’s potential. State health care leaders believe this volunteer council may be South Carolina’s best hope to address some of the state’s most challenging and costly health concerns — obesity, infant mortality in the broader context of child and maternal wellness, and behavioral health.

“Our state struggles with all of these issues and we rank near the bottom on all of these issues,” said Graham Adams, CEO of the S.C. Office of Rural Health. “They aren’t easily solved and they’ve been around for a long time.”

Adams was elected the Health Coordinating Council’s chairman this month. The group also recently appointed its first board.

“There are so many well-intentioned programs throughout the state,” he said. “They’re doing good work, but sometimes it’s hard to know what each other is doing.”

It’s true that there already are dozens of programs in place trying to tackle these issues.

The Birth Outcomes Initiative has made significant progress reducing the number of early deliveries. A program called Working Well has successfully removed sugar-sweetened drinks from two hospital systems.

“There are some bright spots,” Graham said. The council is “trying to focus on those, see what made them work, why they gained traction, why they’re making a difference and to see if we can take them up to scale statewide.”

Council members, who include executives from state agencies, hospitals and the business community, met last week in Columbia and discussed their expectations of the group.

“It’s the first time we’re doing a true multi-stakeholder coalition of senior leaders statewide to talk about how we can coordinate our efforts to make an impact,” said Ana Gallego, the council’s only staff member.

There are few, if any, statewide efforts like this council in the U.S., said Tony Keck, director of the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services and a Health Coordinating Council member.

“It’s got a lot of people very excited about it,” he said.

Graham acknowledged that the group hasn’t accomplished much yet, but said he’s confident it’s moving in that direction. He hopes the council can point to significant progress after a few years.

“The goal is not to produce a report. The goal is not to create a think tank. The goal is to create action steps,” he said. “We’re not quite that far yet.”

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.