LSU AgCenter Agents Battling Childhood Obesity

Alexis O. Navarro, Gentry, Ramona S., Reames, Elizabeth S., Merrill, Thomas A., Morgan, Johnny W.  |  4/19/2005 10:29:07 PM

Students at Bunche Middle School in Jefferson Parish sample some of the low-fat items they studied this spring. The students are enrolled in the Committed to Kids program at the school – where they learn about proper nutrition from LSU AgCenter agents.

News Release Distributed 06/09/04 

LSU AgCenter agents are focusing on educating young people about food and exercise to decrease obesity in Louisiana’s children.

For example, in Jefferson Parish, students and parents from one school are being taught about healthy nutrition and exercise.

"We’re in our first year of offering this particular program, although teaching about nutrition is something we’ve done for years," said Alexis O’Dwyer Navarro, an LSU AgCenter family and consumer sciences agent in Jefferson Parish. "We chose to try it at Bunche Middle School, and we’re specifically targeting youth who have expressed an interest in improving health through physical activity and healthy food choices."

The program being implemented in a Jefferson Parish school is using the Committed to Kids model. That obesity management program got its start about 15 years ago as a clinical research project at LSU.

Navarro said the program is being offered in cooperation with the school-based health clinic at Bunche – although it is continuing during the break from school this summer.

But the Jefferson program is just one of many around the state in which LSU AgCenter agents and specialists are trying to help young people learn how to choose healthier lifestyles based on appropriate diet and physical activity.

"There are a lot of parishes where we have very active obesity reduction programs," said LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames. "From Iberville and East Baton Rouge to Caddo and Lafayette to Richland, as well as a lot of points in between, our agents are working to teach people about the long-term benefits that come from avoiding problems with obesity."

For example, in Richland Parish, LSU AgCenter agents are working with 9th-12th graders on preventing Type 2 diabetes, which is associated with obesity. And in East and West Feliciana parishes, AgCenter agents are working on a pilot project where students participate in planned physical activity as part of the curriculum.

As for Jefferson Parish, a team of three LSU AgCenter agents – Navarro and Charla Branch Moore of Jefferson Parish and Ramona Gentry of Plaquemines Parish – cooperated in the efforts.

The parents and students were taught the nutrition facts by Navarro, who used a program called the "Fats of Life" to show some of the nutritional pitfalls. Moore conducted live cooking demonstrations on how to prepare foods that are lower in fat. And Gentry visited the school on a weekly basis to work with the group of students on a specific nutrition topic.

"The students have learned to read food labels, to make healthy food choices for breakfast and for snacks and to recognize symptoms of Type 2 diabetes," Gentry said.

Moore, who also works in the LSU AgCenter’s family nutrition program, said she tried to teach participants about the basic groups in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Guide Pyramid and how those groups play into making healthy food choices.

Navarro said the Jefferson program will continue through the summer – even though the youngsters are out of school.

"They will meet monthly instead of weekly, but we didn’t want them to lose interest during the summer break," she said. "We were given YMCA passes for the children to attend strength training with a weight-training instructor, and they will also be able to swim and be involved in other activities during the summer."

For additional information on nutrition programs or the variety of other educational opportunities available, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit www.lsuagcenter.com.

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Contacts:
Ramona Gentry at (504) 392-6690 or rgentry@agcenter.lsu.edu
Charla Branch-Moore at (504) 838-1170 or cbranch@agcenter.lsu.edu
Alexis Navarro at (504) 838-1170 or anavarro@agcenter.lsu.edu
Beth Reames at (225) 578-3929 or breams@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writers:
Johnny Morgan at (504) 838-1170 or jmorgan@agcenter.lsu.edu
Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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