LSU AgCenter conference highlights family, fitness, finance

Ellen P. Murphy, Van Osdell, Mary Ann, Overstreet, Karen  |  5/8/2008 12:58:42 AM

News Release Distributed 05/08/08

Childhood brain development, protecting memory, eating healthy, financial management and leadership were the hot topics at the spring professional development conference for LSU AgCenter Extension Family and Consumer Sciences and 4-H Programs.

Seventy-five people attended the conference in Baton Rouge April 29 to May 1.

The pre-natal environment is a new field of science that is showing that “we cross more biological and developmental milestones before we are born than we will ever get after we are here,” said Dr. Stewart Gordon, associate professor of clinical pediatrics with the LSU Health Sciences Center at Earl K. Long Medical Center.

Gordon said prevention is the answer to obesity and obesity is producing a potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century.

Studies show the best predictor of obesity for a 6-year-old child is the weight of his parents. If one parent is overweight, the child has a 40 percent chance of becoming obese. The odds jump to 80 percent if both parents are overweight, Gordon said. If neither parent is overweight, the number is 7 percent.

“We cannot afford to continue this trend,” Gordon said.

Poverty can be a predictor of lower intelligence and poor school performance, Gordon said. Children from low-income families have been exposed to 13 million words in parent-child interactions while children from professional families have been exposed to 45 million, he added.

He said Indiana estimates its future prison construction based on the number of second graders who aren’t reading on grade level. “Low literacy is the common demographic among prisoners,” Gordon said.

“An investment in early childhood development is the purest form of economic development,” he said. “Spend time with your babies, read with your babies. The best toy you can give your child is yourself.”

Memory loss is not a “normal” part of the aging process and may be preventable, said Andrew Crocker, extension program specialist in gerontology for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

Learning can be auditory, visual and kinesthetic, Crocker said. “We have dominant learning styles for different tasks,” he said.

Crocker said drugs and alcohol, stress, grief, depression and improper nutrition can lead to problems with recall. He said people can expand their minds with word games and conversation.

“Eat smart and move more,” said Dr. Carolyn Dunn, nutrition specialist with the Cooperative Extension Service at North Carolina State University.

“The percent of overweight children has doubled in two decades,” Dunn said. “Three-fourths of overweight teens grow up to be overweight or obese adults. We are raising Generation XXL.”

She said many children no longer eat meals with their families or have physical education once a day at school. She said strategies similar to removing ash trays and enforcing seat belt use need to be created for healthy eating and physical activity.

“People need clear, succinct messages,” she added.

Dunn’s messages included:

--If the calorie level in one meal has a comma, it’s no good. Plan before shopping.

--Tame the tube. More TV means a higher body weight. There are not a lot of commercials for bananas, tomatoes and strawberries. Don’t keep the TV on all the time or allow it in the bedroom.

--Right-size your portions. She said this comes from the “Department of Duh.” The more you eat, the more you weigh. The more you’re served, the more you eat.

--Re-think your drink. A 20-ounce Coke has 17 teaspoons of sugar while a PowerAde has nine. Choose soft drinks once in a while and drink smaller portions.

--Enjoy more fruits and vegetables; the darker the better.

“Get on the bandwagon of the chancellor’s fitness challenge,” Dr. Ellen Murphy, associate director of the LSU AgCenter’s School of Human Ecology, told her co-workers. “Be a role model.”

The conference focused on financial management on the final day.

“If you don’t have a financial plan, you’re planning to fail,” said Clinton Vaughn, community affairs officer with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. “Seventy percent of all American families live paycheck to paycheck. That means only 30 percent of our families have savings beyond one payday.”

LSU AgCenter administrators echoed the message.

“We are going to have to make sure our families’ financial management is a high priority,” said Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor and director of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service.

“If we can teach young people how to manage finances, it will help them as adults,” he told the AgCenter faculty members. “Your work is more relevant today than it has ever been. Take your responsibilities seriously and help our constituents reach their potential.”

“We need to get the public passionate about caring for children and poverty in the state,” said Dr. Karen Overstreet, who works with leadership and volunteer development in the LSU AgCenter.



Dr. Ellen Murphy, (225) 578-6794,
Dr. Karen Overstreet at (225) 578-6709, or

Writer: Mary Ann Van Osdell, (318) 741-7430, ext. 1104,

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