LSU AgCenter receives $1.25 million grant for project to improve rural health

News Release Distributed 10/01/15

BATON ROUGE, La. – The LSU AgCenter has been awarded a two-year, $1.25 million grant that will fund research and outreach projects aimed at reducing obesity and chronic diseases in three rural Louisiana parishes – Madison, St. Helena and Tensas.

The grant is from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Partner institutions working with the AgCenter include the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

“This collaborative grant from the CDC will serve as a pilot in three parishes to promote healthier communities through coalitions,” said LSU Vice President for Agriculture Bill Richardson. “The expected changes will improve physical activity and nutrition, reduce obesity, and prevent and control diabetes, heart disease and stroke among residents in the targeted parishes.”

The LSU AgCenter joins seven other land-grant universities that have received CDC grants to leverage their extension efforts to help address health problems in rural communities. Universities were eligible for the grant if they are located in states with counties that have a 40 percent or greater adult obesity rate.

The project, tentatively named Healthy ABCs, will work to improve access to nutritious foods and recreation opportunities and instill healthy behaviors using a community-driven approach. The three parishes being targeted have some of Louisiana’s highest rates of obesity and poverty, said Denise Holston-West, the principal investigator for this grant and a registered dietitian with the LSU AgCenter.

“We want this to be driven by people in the local community,” Holston-West said. “It’s important for them to have a say so we can understand their needs and challenges and help address them.”

The first step is to hold community forums to determine access challenges and make an action plan, she said. Residents of small communities often have limited access to grocery stores that sell fresh produce or parks for recreation, for example.

The AgCenter already has a similar healthy communities program in northeast Louisiana in West Carroll Parish, which was initiated in 2013. This effort is also in partnership with Southern University and Pennington Biomedical.

The AgCenter plans to hire three new employees – a manager based in Baton Rouge, an extension agent based in St. Helena Parish and another agent based in northeast Louisiana – as part of the grant. A website for the project is in the works.

The Southern Ag Center will help establish community and school gardens and cooking camps in the three parishes.

“We are excited to collaborate with such outstanding institutions as we work diligently to decrease the incidence of obesity and obesity-related illnesses to ensure that our families and communities are healthy,” said Adell Brown, interim chancellor of the Southern University Ag Center.

Pennington Biomedical will handle project evaluations and tracking information, such as changes in residents’ health knowledge and attitudes.

“One in two Louisiana children is overweight or obese, and many parts of our state are 50 percent above the national average for prevalence of diabetes. This sort of grant recognition from the nation’s top public health agency is impactful, and Pennington Biomedical is proud to join our partners to reach out to these communities, continue to grow our state’s rural health programs and work to turn the tide on chronic disease,” said William T. Cefalu, Pennington Biomedical executive director. Assistant professor Stephanie Broyles of Pennington Biomedical is a co-investigator on the project.

The state Department of Health and Hospitals will also be part of the project through its Well-Ahead Louisiana program, which encourages people to eat better, exercise more and cut tobacco use.

“We are excited to support the LSU AgCenter and Southern University as well as Pennington in their efforts to create a culture of health in Louisiana’s communities,” said J.T. Lane, DHH’s assistant secretary for public health. “They have been core partners in the development of the Well-Ahead Louisiana initiative, and we look forward to this new opportunity to combat obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The project will help our residents live longer, healthier lives.”

Olivia McClure

10/1/2015 6:59:11 PM
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