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Annual Report Card on Children's Health… Louisiana Earns a "D" – Again

Released: Monday, September 27, 2010

            Baton Rouge –   For the third consecutive year, the state of Louisiana has earned an overall grade of “D” in the areas of children’s physical activity and health, finds a study by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center (PBRC).  The score reflects the state’s performance in 15 different indicators and categories compiled in Louisiana’s Report Card on Physical Activity and Health for Children and Youth 2010. The overall grade remains unchanged from the Center’s Report Cards for 2008 and 2009.  

            The primary goal of the annual project is to assess the level of physical activity and sedentary behaviors in Louisiana’s children and youth, to find the elements that both foster and impede physical activity, and to suggest practical steps that can help move the needle. The authoritative, evidence-based report is compiled by a panel of experts gathered by the Center.

Despite the disturbing findings, PBRC’s Associate Executive Director for Population Science Peter Katzmarzyk, Ph.D., said Louisiana’s grade can be improved. Using the get-off-the-couch theme “Plug into Play” this year, the Report Card lists specific recommendations for parents, teachers and school administrators, and policy makers, including:

  • Parents should establish household rules for television and computer use, and set limits that mirror the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that young people watch no more than two hours of quality television programming each day. In addition, parents should not place televisions in children’s bedrooms, as it has been proven they are more likely to develop problems with their weight.
  • Teachers and school administrators should promote, coordinate, implement, and adhere to school wellness policies.
  • Policy makers should put physical education and recess back into elementary schools.

            The Center is sponsoring a public health and education conference for leaders to gather on September 29 in Baton Rouge to address one of the report’s most troubling findings: more than 47% of Louisiana children between ages two and 19 are overweight or obese. The third statewide public health conference on childhood obesity entitled Developing an Evidence-based Childhood Obesity Strategy: The Importance of Evaluation, will examine how data and measurement can be used to track progress and impediments more effectively. Nearly 400 professionals from around the state are attending the conference.

            The Report Card once again evaluated 15 indicators and categories within five core areas: Physical Activity/Inactivity; Health & Health Behaviors; Family; School and Community; and Policy and Investments.

            Louisiana earned the following grades: physical activity (D); amount of time spent watching TV or passive interaction with a computer (D-); sports participation (C); weight and obesity (F); overall physical and emotional well-being (C-); fruit and vegetable consumption
(D-); tobacco use (C); physical activity in school (D); training of school personnel in physical activity (C); built environment and community design (D); and progress on government strategies and policy (B-). This year, the panel also assigned a grade in one new category: aerobic fitness (C-). 

            Some categories have not yet been fully evaluated because it remains difficult to find enough data to draw conclusions. These include: government investment (incomplete), industry and philanthropic investment (incomplete) and family perceptions and roles regarding physical activity (incomplete).

            The state’s highest grade was in government strategies and policies (B-), which reflects the passage of 9 bills between 2004-2009 in the Louisiana Legislature relevant to physical activity or the prevention of obesity among children and youth. The state fared worst in the category of numbers of overweight or obese children (F). In addition, the Report Card also included findings from 35 years of studies in Bogalusa, La., which showed that the rate of overweight and obese children has doubled and the rate of obesity has increased five and one-half times.

            While the third statewide children’s health report card reports disconcerting news, Katzmarzyk says momentum is building nationwide to call attention to such health concerns. In May 2010, the federal government released the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan, a set of policies, programs, and initiatives that aim to increase physical activity in all segments of the American population. Also this year, President Barack Obama created the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, and First Lady Michelle Obama released her Let’s Move! project with the goal of ending childhood obesity in one generation, These initiatives focus on creating healthy childhood environments and empowering children to become more physically active and adopt healthier diets.

            “Both the Louisiana Report Card and the conference are designed to equip all sectors of society with strategies that can help reverse the negative trends,” said PBRC Executive Director Steven Heymsfield.   

            “Childhood obesity is rising in the state with almost half of children being overweight or obese,” Katzmarzyk said. “We know that many of these children will face health consequences that were traditionally only experienced by adults. Furthermore, they are more likely to acquire additional serious health problems in adulthood and to pass obesity on to their own children.”

            “We hope that parents, school officials, policy makers, elected officials, builders and developers and health care providers will examine the Report Card’s findings and help implement solutions,” said Katzmarzyk. “The children’s health crisis in Louisiana is the result of many factors, so it’s going to require tackling it from many different directions.”

            PBRC released the findings at a news conference held in Shreveport to highlight the outstanding physical education programming at North Highlands Multimedia Performing Arts School. The school was honored with a School Health Award in 2009 by the Louisiana Department of Education. Students participating in physical education programming at North Highlands also increased their academic performance scores.

            Louisiana’s Report Card on Physical Activity and Health for Children and Youth 2010 is underwritten by Gold level sponsors: Louisiana Council on Obesity Prevention and Management, Louisiana Action for Healthy Kids, Louisiana Public Facilities Authority, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, and Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center; and Bronze sponsor, Baton Rouge Coca-Cola Bottling Company.
The conference, Developing an Evidence-based Childhood Obesity Strategy: The Importance of Evaluation, is underwritten by Lead sponsors, Louisiana Council on Obesity Prevention and Management and Louisiana Action for Healthy Kids. Presenting sponsor is Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. PBRC leads this initiative in coordination with the Pennington Biomedical Research Foundation.

            For copies of the Report Card full report or a summary edition, go to www.pbrc.edu or www.louisianareportcard.org.

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The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the causes of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. Itis a campus of the Louisiana State University System and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at the Center includes approximately 80 faculty and more than 25 post-doctoral fellows who comprise a network of 50 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dieticians, and support personnel, and 19 highly specialized core service facilities.  The Center's more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 234-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.