Healthy Communities program starts June 1 in West Carroll Parish

Tobie Blanchard, Benedict, Linda F.  |  5/29/2013 6:50:30 PM

News Release Distributed 05/29/13

BATON ROUGE, La. – The LSU AgCenter and Pennington Biomedical Research Center are embarking on an ambitious nutrition education program in West Carroll Parish, starting June 1. Anchored by the town of Oak Grove, West Carroll sits in Louisiana’s Delta region where the incidence of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity are higher than in other areas of the state.

The program, called Healthy Communities, aims to improve the health profile of the West Carroll Parish population, according to Tara Smith, LSU AgCenter Northeast Region director. The goals are to promote healthy eating and physical activity and provide access to healthy foods and recreational facilities, such as parks and trails.

June 1 is when a family and consumer science specialist hired to direct the program, Monica Stewart, will start. Her office will be at the LSU AgCenter extension office in Oak Grove.

“The Delta region in our state has some of the country’s highest levels of poverty, obesity and chronic disease. We aim to concentrate efforts in this region, starting with West Carroll Parish. By working together and combining our resources with Pennington Biomedical, we feel we can make a difference,” said Bill Richardson, LSU AgCenter chancellor.

Stewart will be working with a team of educators from the AgCenter and researchers from Pennington Biomedical.

“We have a wealth of information on how to improve nutritional status and prevent disease, but we need more research on how to help people change their behavior and adopt new practices,” said Steven Heymsfield, Pennington Biomedical executive director.

One of Stewart’s first activities will be to form a community advisory board that will aid in identifying intervention targets and evaluating delivery methods.

“This program takes a holistic approach to health education,” said Gina Eubanks, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for extension. “Good nutrition and physical fitness have to work together. The whole community needs to be involved for real change to take place.”

Members of the West Carroll community have expressed concern at the amount of sedentary time for children and adults, the overconsumption of fast foods, the unwillingness to try new foods, the reduced number of school nurses and the incidences of youth diabetes, said Terri Crawford, the LSU AgCenter’s Northeast Region coordinator for family and consumer sciences.

“They gave adults in West Carroll a health grade of C- and children a D,” Crawford said.

They also discussed changes their community could make to improve the health of its residents. Ideas included quarterly health fairs, community workshops focusing on health and wellness, cooking classes, establishing bike paths, fitness challenges and after-school health activities for youth, Crawford said.

“We hope to encourage parents to model healthy behaviors for their children and take greater pride in the community through efforts such as safe areas for walking and litter abatement programs,” Crawford said.

Pennington Biomedical will serve as the research arm of the program and plans to offer health assessments and recommendations for improving overall health.

“We hope to make West Carroll Parish our model parish and for this program to spread into other communities,” Smith said, adding that plans are to include a 4-H component to help reach youth.

The LSU AgCenter and Pennington Biomedical are pursuing grants to support the initiative.

Tobie Blanchard and Linda Foster Benedict

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