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Experts grade children’s health; Louisiana gets a “D” – again

Released: Monday, September 14, 2009

BATON ROUGE – The Pennington Biomedical Research Center (PBRC) released today a second report card on children’s health, giving an overall grade of “D,” which is unimproved from last year, and announced a statewide public health conference to focus on improving children’s health, specifically regarding physical activity and obesity.

A panel of experts gathered by the Center analyzed existing data, examined several categories of activities and policies that lead to good health, and assigned specific grades to each in Louisiana’s Report Card on Physical Activity and Health for Children and Youth -- 2009. PBRC’s Associate Executive Director for Population Science, Peter Katzmarzyk, Ph.D., said Louisiana’s grade can be improved. Using the theme “Better Health for All Children,” the report card listed specific recommendations for parents, teachers and school administrators, and policy makers, including:

1. Parents should spend time with their children in healthy outdoor activities and ensure children have adequate free time to be physically active.
2. Teachers and school administrators should incorporate physical activity breaks during and between classes and restructure physical education programs to teach more life-time and individual goal-based skills such as tennis, golf and dancing.
3. Policy makers should provide tax credits to parents whose children participate in physical activity programs as a way of off-setting fees, equipment and uniforms.

The Center is now inviting public health and education leaders to gather this week in Baton Rouge to determine the health status and the extent of obesity among Louisiana children and probable causes and solutions. The second, statewide public health conference to focus on this subject is entitled, Childhood Obesity and Public Health: An Ounce of Prevention or a Pound of Cure?, will allow attendees to discuss the report card and its recommendations.

Katzmarzyk, who also holds the Center’s LPFA Chair in Nutrition, said that the Center’s 21-years of nutrition and preventive medicine research along with its mission, “to promote healthier lives through research and education in nutrition and preventive medicine”, made the Center a natural leader to coordinate the assessment of children’s health in the state and to outline specific steps to improve it. More than 250 professionals from around the state have already registered for the free conference to be held on Wednesday, September 16, on the Center’s campus.

According to the national Child Policy Research Center and the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative/Data Resource Center, 36% of Louisiana children ages 10-17 years are overweight or obese compared to the national percentage of 31%. Katzmarzyk said the Center wants to improve this statistic.

The Report Card assigned grades again to several indicators of health activities and state policies and procedures, which included: physical activity (D), amount of time spent watching TV or passive interaction with a computer (D-), sports participation (C), weight and obesity (F), physical activity in school (D), training of school personnel in physical activity (C), government strategies and policy (B-), government investment (incomplete), industry and philanthropic investment (incomplete) and family perceptions and roles regarding physical activity (incomplete). This year, the panel also assigned grades in two new categories: Smoking Status (C) and Fruit and Vegetable Consumption (D-)

Katzmarzyk said this second statewide children’s health report card continues to be an important resource to provide benchmark measurements and recommendations to improve the grade and to track future progress. One category, Screen Time, slipped from D to D –, while new data allowed the team to assign a grade to two previously incomplete categories, Overall Physical and Emotional Well-being (C-) and Built Environment and Community Design (D).

“It continues to be difficult to find data to determine the amount of money the government, industry and philanthropists contribute to solving this problem,” Katzmarzyk said. “so those categories continue to get an “incomplete” grade. We hope the recommendations we presented will help improve the health of our state’s children, fulfilling a great part of our mission and also prompt some measurements in these areas.”

The conference is designed to develop public health strategies specific to Louisiana that can be employed to tackle the growing problem of childhood obesity.

“Childhood obesity is fast becoming the greatest public health challenge facing America,” Katzmarzyk said. “During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the number of overweight and obese children skyrocketed, resulting in a growing number of children facing health consequences that were traditionally only experienced by adults.”

“We are extending the invitation to physicians, nutritionists, physical activity specialists, dietitians, nurses, health educators, psychologists, counselors, healthcare policy makers, researchers, the media, business and civic leaders, parks and recreation personnel, and early childhood and school-age decision-makers,” said Katzmarzyk.

“This public health conference will bring together local, national and international experts on the topic of childhood obesity, with a focus on prevention,” Katzmarzyk said. “The more we learn about childhood obesity, the more we understand that prevention must begin early – there is evidence to suggest that some aspects of childhood obesity are triggered prior to birth.”

Louisiana’s Report Card on Physical Activity and Health for Children and Youth 2009 is underwritten by Gold Level sponsors: Louisiana Council on Obesity Prevention and Management, Louisiana Council for Healthy Kids, Growing up Fit Together, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, and Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center; Silver Sponsor, Associated Food Stores, and Contributing sponsor, Louisiana Public Health Institute. The conference, Childhood Obesity and Public Health: An Ounce of Prevention or a Pound of Cure?, is underwritten by the Lead sponsor, Louisiana Council on Obesity Prevention and Management, along with Louisiana Action for Healthy Kids and Coca Cola. PBRC leads this initiative in coordination with the Pennington Biomedical Research Foundation.

For copies of the Report Card and the full research report, go to www.pbrc.edu or www.louisianareportcard.org. The conference is free if participants pre-register.

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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.