Alford, 53, said the honor is both humbling and overwhelming.
Alford was selected by Coca-Cola, a sponsor for the Olympic Torch Relay, in recognition of his dedication to promote healthy, active lifestyles and civic engagement in his community.
An avid runner, Alford practices what he preaches. He has run an average of 30 miles per week for 32 years, totaling 48,000 miles, or two trips around the world. He doesn’t run marathons: “I am sort of a plow horse and not a race horse.” He takes care of his joints and listens to what his body tells him. Alford stays active daily, whether by running or swimming, rowing or working in his garden. “I’m in this for the long haul for cardiovascular fitness,” he said.
Alford takes his personal philosophy of maintenance into his medical practice. He is a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and is devoted to the group’s mission of increasing the numbers of primary care physicians.
Nationwide, most medical dollars are spent on treating chronic diseases that can be prevented with good primary care, Alford said. Most medical students go into specialties because the pay is better, and the nation’s primary care workforce is inadequate, he said.
Congress is currently in the dilemma of trying to pay for a system that is inefficient and broken, Alford said. We have put too much emphasis on medical care and not enough on encouraging healthy lifestyles, he said.
Alford supports the AAFP initiative to promote “medical homes,” which are clinics with a prevention and education focus. There are currently none in Mississippi. Medical homes would offer smoking cessation and diabetes classes and also work with school systems to develop healthy education curriculum. Some progressive insurance companies will pay for medical home services, he said.
With the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians, Alford helped establish a Rural Health Scholars Program that encourages high school and college students to become primary care physicians and provides medical scholarships.
Alford is also president-elect of the Mississippi State Medical Association. He is a graduate of Millsaps College in Jackson and earned his doctorate from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine.