Journey through body helps children live healthier

Denise Holston  |  11/10/2008 11:27:06 PM

LSU AgCenter staff set up Body Walk exhibit at Westdale School in Baton Rouge. (Photo by Mark Claesgens. Click on photo to downloard larger image.)

News Release Distributed 11/10/08

Students around the state are taking an unusual journey without leaving their school. They are traveling through the human body with the LSU AgCenter’s and Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s gymnasium-sized exhibit called Body Walk.

The Body Walk traveling exhibit, which is the most visible component of the Smart Bodies program, is in its fourth year. For many students at Westdale Heights Magnet School in Baton Rouge, this was their second time experiencing this trip.

“It was really cool because we went step-by-step into every body part, and it was like you were the vegetables or whatever you were and you were going to be absorbed into the body,” said Saida Mizyed, a fifth-grader at Westdale Heights.

The other parts of the Smart Bodies program involve nutrition lessons and classroom activities. The Body Walk travels to participating schools and allows children to get a better understanding of how their bodies work.

The LSU AgCenter recently obtained a second, duplicate Body Walk that will visit schools that have already hosted it. The original is visiting new schools. By the end of this year, the Body Walk will have reached 150,000 students across the state.

The goal of the Smart Bodies effort is to prevent childhood obesity, said Denise Holston, an LSU AgCenter nutritionist in charge of the program.

“Kids don’t need to know all the scientific reasons behind being healthy. But if they know they can be healthier by just eating fruits and vegetables, eating better, moving around more, playing, being active – that’s the message we want to get out,” said Robin Mayhall with Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s corporate communications office.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation partnered with the LSU AgCenter to sponsor the Smart Bodies program and fund it for its first five years. The program just received the organizations’s BlueWorks Award – a national award that recognized the program for promoting health and wellness.

“Louisiana is the fourth fattest state in the nation. That includes adults and children. And we have a long-term goal of moving down on that ranking,” Mayhall said. “This program fits into that goal.”

Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden visited the Body Walk at Westdale Heights. Holden said the program fits into his healthy living initiatives and emphasized to the students the importance of learning healthy habits.

“It’s important to start with children. When you start at that level, they begin to learn things instead of trying to break a habit. They’re at a level where you can teach them some things that they can easily absorb.” Holden said.

LSU AgCenter researchers are following up with the students who have participated in the Smart Bodies program. Researchers have looked at students’ body mass index a year after starting Smart Bodies lessons. The results from this research show the program is working.

“We actually found that the kids sustained – meaning we didn’t have more children in the at-risk group or the obese group. They maintained their weight, which is what we want to see,” Holston said.

Fifth-grader Kole Purdy says his family adopted a healthier lifestyle a few years ago. He said they eat better and exercise more and the lessons he learns from Smart Bodies help reinforce what he is already doing.

“When I go to my friend’s house, they’re not too healthy – they have like chips and all that. It will remind me to get outside and not eat that,” Purdy said.

As part of the exhibit, the children see what a clogged artery looks like and what tobacco can do to a lung. They learnthat people are having heart attacks and strokes at a younger age because of obesity-related complications.

“A lot of kids are obese, and I think a lot of kids should start eating healthier. I’m going to start eating healthier,” said fifth-grader Akosua Allen. She added, “My dog is too.”

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Contact: Denise Holston at (225) 578-4573, or

Writer: Tobie Blanchard at (225) 578-5649, or

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