LSU AgCenter awarded $5 million grant for rural obesity program

Olivia McClure  |  9/14/2018 2:56:44 PM

(09/14/18) BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU AgCenter has been awarded a $5 million, five-year grant that will fund an ongoing program to improve health in rural Louisiana and expand it to more parishes.

The AgCenter was among institutions in 15 states that received High Obesity Program grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. Depending on the availability of funds, the AgCenter is expected to receive $1 million per year until 2023.

The grant will support an initiative called Healthy Access, Behaviors and Communities, or Healthy ABCs.

Healthy ABCs will continue work that began in 2015 in Madison, Tensas and St. Helena parishes through the AgCenter Healthy Communities program, which was funded by a previous CDC grant. Assumption, Claiborne, East Carroll and Morehouse parishes will be added to the effort.

All seven parishes have an adult obesity rate of at least 40 percent, said Denise Holston, an AgCenter nutrition specialist and principal investigator for the project.

“Healthy ABCs will continue to leverage local cooperative extension services to expand the use of evidence-based strategies that increase access to healthier foods and safe and accessible places for physical activity,” she said. “Using a community-led approach, this work will help reduce the number of people with obesity and the effects of obesity in the targeted parishes.”

In the previous project, the AgCenter and several partner agencies hosted community forums and conducted assessments on residents’ ability to access nutritious foods and exercise venues.

Holston said participants have persuaded local stores to stock more healthful items, established farmers markets, promoted physical activity at schools and community centers, and pushed for safety improvements to streets, among other accomplishments.

That type of work will continue under Healthy ABCs, she said. In the new parishes, the AgCenter will help organize community coalitions and do baseline assessments before launching program activities.

“For well over 100 years, cooperative extension services throughout the country have been involved in coalition building whereby various organizations come together to influence societal concerns,” said Gina E. Eubanks, AgCenter associate vice president. “Healthy ABCs allows the LSU AgCenter and its partners to address health concerns in rural Louisiana.”

Partners include the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Southern University Ag Center, Louisiana Department of Health, Well-Ahead Louisiana, Center for Planning Excellence, Food Bank of Northeast Louisiana, Louisiana Department of Transportation, Louisiana Farm to School and Capital Area Planning Commission.

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Members of the LSU AgCenter-led Healthy Communities coalition take a walking tour of Greensburg to identify ways to improve nutrition and exercise opportunities in the St. Helena Parish town on July 11, 2016. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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Stephanie Elwood, second from left, of the Southern University Ag Center, gives instructions on how to plant a blueberry bush on Feb. 17, 2017, at the Florida Parishes Campus of the Northshore Technical Community College in Greensburg. Several students from the college helped plant a variety of fruit plants in what will become an orchard that the school’s culinary program can use. The activity was part of the Healthy Communities initiative, of which the Southern and LSU agricultural centers are both sponsors. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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A temporary crosswalk is painted for a walkability demonstration that was part of the LSU AgCenter-led Healthy Communities program. Photo by Denise Holston/LSU AgCenter

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