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Collaboration Targets Health Risks in West Carroll Parish

Pioneering partnership to provide education and support for at-risk residents
Released: Monday, March 16, 2015

Baton Rouge, LA - LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center today released the results of a leading-edge collaboration that reveals significantly greater health disparities in West Carroll Parish than health authorities previously recognized. The report also provides an innovative path forward to improving health for the parish's at-risk residents.

Designed to identify the health areas that need the most attention, the Healthy Communities - West Carroll initiative was formed as partnership between Pennington Biomedical, the LSU AgCenter and their Louisiana Cooperative Extension Services, Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, and local leaders in West Carroll Parish. The project was supported in part by the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science (LA CaTS) Center, a federally funded statewide research collaborative.

The project surveyed residents over the phone and measured wellness indicators in person (such as body mass index, blood pressure, and cholesterol) to identify priority health areas for the parish and to direct health intervention and promotion activities. The survey also provided baseline health information against which to measure the parish's health changes over time.

"This is a truly pioneering alliance that equips people in West Carroll Parish with the knowledge they need to take charge of improving their own health," said Stephanie Broyles, assistant profrssor at Pennington Biomedical and lead investigator on the assessment. "This bottom up approach where community leaders take a leadership role in learning about the health of residents and making changes via outreach and education is something which can easily be emulated by other communities in our state."

"Louisiana's Delta region has some of the highest levels of poverty, obesity and chronic disease in the country. By working together and combining our resources, we feel we can make a difference," said Gina Eubanks, LSU AgCenter program leader for food and nutrition and Southern University Ag Center Vice Chancellor for Extension. "The program's success in this parish will be used as a model for similar programs in other Louisiana parishes."

While most residents of West Carroll Parish reported they were in good health and had higher access to healthcare than other areas of Louisiana, a number of health markers presented researchers and community leaders with specific risks to target through outreach efforts and education:

  • Obesity behaviors, such as eating fewer fruits and vegetables and getting too little exercise, were higher in West Carroll Parish than Louisiana's average, putting the parish on track to outpace the rest of the state in obesity.
  • 16 percent of residents have diabetes, which is 40 percent higher than the rest of the state.
  • 48 percent of residents have high blood pressure, which is 20 percent higher than the rest of the state. Many people (13 percent) were unaware before the assessment that they had high blood pressure.

Additionally, health disparities among low-income residents in West Carroll Parish were far greater:

  • Nearly half (49 percent) in the lowest income group reported poor health, compared to just 9 percent in the highest income group.
  • 1 out of every 4 low income residents reported trouble understanding health materials, a difficulty known as low health literacy. The number of low income residents who struggle with health literacy is about 50 percent higher than high income residents.
  • More than 55 percent of low income residents are sedentary and do not get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week that is recommended.
  • 1 in 3 low income residents has diabetes, which is 5 times higher than among high income residents.

These results signify that community outreach and educational programs that assist with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol will be especially helpful to people in West Carroll Parish.

"The idea for Healthy Communities started when top officials with the LSU AgCenter, Pennington Biomedical and Southern University Ag Center met in 2012 to explore the possibility of partnering together to obtain national funding for health intervention in a rural community," said LSU Vice President for Agriculture Bill Richardson. "With Pennington Biomedical's national reputation for nutrition and health research and the two Ag Centers' ability to run effective educational programs in every Louisiana parish, it was a win-win partnership during a time of limited budgets."

"There is terrific momentum here - and what is truly noteworthy is that this health assessment was conducted in an area geographically distant from all of our institutions. This team worked together toward a common goal to improve the lives of the citizens of our state, setting the stage for the next step in providing effective health interventions," said William T. Cefalu, executive director for Pennington Biomedical. "The Healthy Communities - West Carroll initiative gives communities an idea of what is possible."

For the full report, please visit www.pbrc.edu/healthywestcarroll.

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The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. It is a campus of Louisiana State University and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes approximately 80 faculty and more than 25 post-doctoral fellows who comprise a network of 44 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and support personnel, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Pennington Biomedical’s more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 222-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.