Cynthia Cockerham, the LSU AgCenter area agent in rural development, was recently awarded an obesity grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation to fund the Live Lively LaSalle project.
The $1 million grant, which will be matched by funds from community partners, is part of Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana, which funds 12 programs statewide.
Cockerham said Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana is the first program of its kind in Louisiana to provide nearly $30 million to help reduce the state’s rising obesity rate.
“Our goal with this grant program is to reduce the obesity rate in LaSalle Parish by promoting healthy eating and active living,” Cockerham said.
Of the nearly 15,000 residents in LaSalle Parish, 38 percent are estimated to be obese and 68 percent are estimated to be overweight or obese.
Cockerham’s Live Lively LaSalle! initiatives will range from building skate parks and basketball courts to adding healthful items to restaurant menus.
The campaign is a three-year initiative that will include a newspaper, website and flyers with information about health, nutrition and exercise.
“Our program takes a multi-pronged approach to help adults, families and children exercise more, eat well and learn about healthy lifestyles,” Cockerham said.
In her role with the LSU AgCenter, Cockerham also spends time as executive director of the LaSalle Economic Development District (LEDD), which was the lead agency applying for the grant.
“We wanted as many people as possible to benefit from the grant,” she said.
Collaborating partners are the Town of Jena, Town of Olla, Town of Urania, Town of Tullos, LaSalle General Hospital, Hardtner Medical Center, the Jena Band of Choctaw, the LaSalle Parish Police Jury’s Recreation District #10 and #22, and the Centennial Cultural Center.
Cockerham served as liaison among the partners through the application process and will oversee the administration of this $1 million grant and $2 million project. “Our grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation will be matched by an additional $1 million in local funds contributed by the partners,” she said.
Cockerham said some of the improvements include fitness equipment that will enhance 2.5 miles of trails that will be built near schools and neighborhoods.
“We will be adding playground equipment at four existing trail loops in the parish and providing space for farmers markets,” she said.
The program includes extensive evaluation, Cockerham said. “Plans are in place to evaluate changes to the physical environment, exercise opportunities, and health and fitness assessments.”
Restaurants and cafeterias in the parish will get involved by adding healthful items to their menus and more than 500 at-risk families will be offered wellness programs through scholarships and tribal member incentive programs, Cockerham said.
Throughout the grant period, which begins Sept. 1, the Blue Cross foundation will work with Pennington Biomedical Research Center to monitor progress, review data and regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the programs.
Cockerham said more than 1.7 million adults and children will be aided by the grants in Louisiana.
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