Terri Crawford, Van Osdell, Mary Ann
The LSU AgCenter is one of five partners in the Delta Nutrition Intervention Research Initiative being conducted in Franklin Parish where an office was recently renovated at the Courthouse Annex to house the community program.
Terri Crawford, regional nutrition agent for the LSU AgCenter’s Northeast Region, is working to strengthen relationships and build new ones among community organizations, government agencies, schools, universities, advisory councils, committees and others to improve the nutritional status of citizens in Northeast Louisiana.
In 1994, Congress provided funding for and directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service to develop a plan for a multi-year research initiative in the Lower Mississippi Delta region, of which Franklin Parish is part. The program would examine health benefits that could be achieved through nutrition intervention. The Franklin NIRI is a joint collaboration among the USDA-ARS, LSU AgCenter, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Southern University and Franklin Parish.
"There is a great need for nutrition intervention research in Franklin Parish," said Crawford. "Four of the ten leading causes of death in the Lower Mississippi Delta have the potential of being prevented or managed through improved nutrition."
According to the Louisiana State Center for Health Statistics, the leading causes of death in Franklin Parish are heart disease, cancer, stroke, accidents and diabetes.
The rate of obesity is 31 percent in the Louisiana Delta, compared to the national rate of 17 percent. High blood pressure among adults there is 31 percent, compared to the national rate of 20 percent. Diabetes among adults is 11 percent, compared to the national rate of 6 percent.
Adults in the Louisiana Delta eat 11 percent less dairy products than the national average, 35 percent less fruits, 24 percent less vegetables, 27 percent more sugar and 14 percent more meat and consume 6 percent more calories than the national average.
The People United to Sustain Health (PUSH) is one research study that involves the Franklin Parish community and an innovative food delivery medium, the "Rolling Store." The store provides healthy food choices to improve the overall diet and health of residents and to help participants learn appropriate food preparation techniques and recipes. Goals are to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, prevent weight gain, increase physical activity and maintain food security through proper budgeting, said Crawford. Participants are 18 or older with a Body Mass Index of 23 or more and less than or equal to 45.
Individuals in that group are taking part in weekly classes. Other participants take part in monthly classes related to family coping skills. Such health assessments as blood pressure and weight are taken regularly, and participants are asked to complete several food- and nutrition-related questionnaires.
Participants in the weekly classes visit the Rolling Store each week to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables and learn about the nutritional value and preparation of a specific fruit or vegetable each week.
Melba Clay, a participant in the PUSH study, said the program helped her learn about the nutritional value of food.
"It’s things I knew but lost track of," she said. Because of the program, she watches fat content, eats smaller portions, studies labels and doesn’t "fight for the closest parking spot" when shopping, even if she is tired. She enjoys an increase in physical activity and walks in the park.
Another program is Franklin CAN, which involves educating fourth-grade students so they can develop skills early in life to select healthy diets and become physically active, said Crawford. This program was conducted at Winnsboro Elementary School last year and will be conducted at Crowville Elementary School in the coming year.
Fifth graders participated in Camp SHINE (Sharing Healthy, Innovative Nutrition Experiences) this summer. The children participated in nutrition education sessions, fun movement activities, food demonstrations, gardening and educational computer games. The event was free.
Franklin NIRI meets on the third Thursday of each month at 5:30 p.m. For more information, call Crawford at (318) 435-2903.