Obesity has become an international health concern and is often accompanied by chronic diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, and even some forms of cancer. Obesity has greatly impacted federal, state, and commercial spending over the last decade. The Ouachita Parish Healthy Communities Coalition is making an effort to help prevent one of the largest drivers of preventable chronic disease, obesity. This coalition stems from the Louisiana Healthy Communities Coalitions (LHCC) that can be found statewide. The Ouachita Parish Healthy Communities Coalition meets on a monthly basis and is focusing efforts on policies, systems, and environmental (PSE) changes for the parish.
In Louisiana, 36.2% of adults and 19.1% of children, aged 10-17, are considered obese. Compared to the rest of the country, Louisiana ranks among the heaviest states in the nation. (Louisiana Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan Supplement, Spring 2019) Ouachita Parish ranks 43 out of 64 parishes for health outcomes and 32 of 64 for length of life according to County Health Rankings.
A Focus Forum was conducted in Ouachita Parish on November 12, 2019 to identify the top issues that would have the greatest impact and those that would be easiest to implement. The coalition then created action plans to address the identified issues and implement programs and projects related to them.
- Locations for stenciled playgrounds have been identified as well as a location for a future walking trail in Bawcomville. Through a partnership with a local church, grant writing is underway as a possible source of funds for the walking trail.
- A Louisiana Healthy Communities Coalition Mini Grant was secured to fund projects at Shady Grove Elementary School including improvements to the school garden area and indoor recess equipment for upper elementary students.
- Other projects implemented by the coalition have included improvements to Lida Benton Park in the form of stenciled fitness stations on the walking trail and signage encouraging physical activity. Picnic tables were also added to the park’s existing shelters in order to encourage more families to come out and utilize the park. A Family Fun Day event was coordinated and hosted to make families aware of the improvements at the park.
- The coalition also partnered with the City of Monroe for Mayor Mayo’s Fun and Fit to Eat Initiative. Educational programming was held for Monroe City School students with stations for nutrition education, fitness activities, and community resources.
- The Family Teaching Garden at the Children’s Coalition for Northeast Louisiana has been another Healthy Communities project that is providing healthful food for Early Head Start children. The garden also serves as teaching tool for the community and a hub for volunteer hours. The Garden Advisory Board sees the garden as a vehicle for community involvement and engagement and would like for it to serve as a doorway to wellness. Super Saturday events provide educational and volunteer opportunities. The playground in the garden promotes physical activity for young children while their parents volunteer in the garden. LSU AgCenter agents present cooking demonstrations, nutrition educational information, and hands-on activities for families visiting the garden on Super Saturdays. Other community organizations and volunteers also set up educational booths or activities. Physical activity such as Zumba and Yoga have also been conducted in the garden. Super Saturday events have been well attended, and many children have tried a new vegetable for the first time as a result of the tastings in the garden.
Educational programming and PSE changes are possible thanks to collaboration and partnerships. The Healthy Communities Coalition has provided a link among agencies, organizations, and community members to increase opportunities for health and wellness. Healthy Communities collaboration has now expanded to include the of City of West Monroe as they seek grant funding to improve walkability in the city.