Building Healthy Communities

Linda Benedict  |  11/21/2013 10:43:46 PM

Linda Foster Benedict

The ultimate goal of LSU AgCenter nutrition education and nutrition research programs is to build healthier communities across Louisiana. Helping people learn to eat better, exercise more and lose weight can go a long way toward disease prevention and intervention. This will help hold down the costs of health care, improve the productivity of the workforce and enhance the quality of life for everyone.

One such program that has gained national recognition with numerous awards is Smart Bodies, which is aimed at school children in Louisiana with a mission to help prevent childhood obesity. The program, which is a partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, helps schools meet federal and state legislative mandates for wellness and physical activity. Go to Smart Bodies: Still Going Strong.

The AgCenter’s 4-H program is involved with Smart Bodies. 4-H agents recruit the schools for the Body Walk event, and 4-H students and adult volunteers help staff the exhibit. Another example of 4-H involvement in the nutrition effort is the Food and Fitness Board, a group of senior 4-H students who conduct outreach efforts including an annual Food and Fitness Camp at the Grant Walker 4-H Educational Center in Pollock. In 2014, this camp will be for the whole family and not just the students.

Smart Portions is a nutrition education program designed to help people change to a healthier lifestyle through healthier eating habits and more physical exercise. Extension agents across the state have offered this series of eight weekly 60-minute lessons. For example, Debbie Melvin, nutrition agent in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes, has been offering the class series for the past five years and for the past couple of years in conjunction with Thibodaux Regional Medical Center and Terrebonne General Medical Center. Go to Nutrition Agent Measures Success with Habit Changes.

Another way to teach nutrition to families is through gardening. Horticulturist Kiki Fontenot leads an AgCenter initiative encouraging school gardens, which helps children learn math and science as well as nutrition. She conducts workshops for teachers and sends a follow-up newsletter called Veggie Bytes.

Fontenot also is in charge of the Children’s Garden at the AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden, which she uses for workshops with teachers, children and parents. The Louisiana Master Gardeners provide volunteer service by helping with the school garden programs.

The LSU AgCenter and the Southern University Agricultural Center are both involved with federally funded outreach programs, which include the Expanded Food and Nutrition Program (EFNEP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed).

EFNEP is designed to empower limited- income families with young children to make informed decisions about food purchasing, food safety and meal management. SNAP-Ed reaches people receiving food stamps, which include the elderly. The program’s goal is to help people adopt healthy food choices within a limited budget and incorporate active lifestyles and habits that promote good health. Two other programs that reach limited-resource families are the AgCenter’s Healthy Beginnings for Your Baby and Southern University’s Parents Preparing for Success, which includes additional teaching about financial management. Go to Nutrition Education Programs Benefit Everybody.

The newest program, which is called Healthy Communities, takes a holistic approach to helping people learn to live a healthier lifestyle with the aim of disease prevention. Go to Family Fest Kicks Off Healthy Communities Program. The AgCenter is partnering with Southern University and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

“People want information that allows them to make the decision,” said Gina E. Eubanks, LSU AgCenter program leader for food and nutrition and also the vice chancellor for extension at the Southern University Ag Center. “We can provide people with the knowledge, but it must be presented in a way that people decide for themselves that this is what I need to do.”

For more information about nutrition education programs, contact your local parish extension office. 

Linda Foster Benedict is associate director and professor in LSU AgCenter Communications.

(This article was published in the fall 2013 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)

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