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Experts grade children’s health; Louisiana gets a “D” and tips to improve

Released: Monday, September 22, 2008

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

A panel of state, national and international experts gathered by the Center analyzed existing data, examined several categories of activities and polices 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. PBRC’s Associate Executive Director for Population Science, Peter Katzmarzyk, Ph.D., said Louisiana’s grade can be improved. Under the theme “Put Active Play in Every Child’s Day,” the panel followed the report card with specific recommendations:

1.  Increase opportunities for children and youth to engage in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity through active play and structured activity.
2. Reduce ethnic and socio-economic disparities in childhood physical activity and health.
3. Improve population assessment of physical activity and health in Louisiana.

The Center is now inviting public health and education leaders to gather this week in Baton Rouge to determine the extent of obesity and diabetes among Louisiana children and probable causes and solutions. The first-of-its-kind, statewide public health conference entitled, Childhood Obesity and Public Health: A Lifespan Approach to Prevention, 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 20-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 275 individuals from around the state have already registered for the free conference to be held on Wednesday, September 24, 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 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), physical and psychosocial wellbeing (incomplete), government strategies and policy (B-), government investment (incomplete), industry and philanthropic investment (incomplete) and family perceptions and roles regarding physical activity (incomplete).

Katzmarzyk said this initial statewide children’s health report card will become an important resource that will provide benchmark measurements and recommendations to improve the grade and to track future progress.

“We’re excited about the first annual report card and the conference,” Katzmarzyk said. “We hope the recommendations we presented will help improve the health of our state’s children, fulfilling a great part of our mission.”

The conference is one of several activities during the Center’s 20th anniversary year and is designed to develop public health strategies specific to Louisiana that can be employed to tackle the growing problem of childhood obesity. 

Katzmarzyk was a leader in a similar effort to produce a national report card in Canada. That annual report has since become an important and anticipated measure of that country’s efforts to improve children’s health.

 “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.”

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center Louisiana’s Report Card on Physical Activity and Health for Children and Youth 2008 is underwritten by Gold Level sponsors, Louisiana Council on Obesity Prevention and Management, Louisiana Public Facilities Authority, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana and Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center; Silver sponsor, Associated Food Stores; Bronze sponsor, Louisiana Public Health Institute, and Contributing sponsor, Kleinpeter Farms Dairy. The Childhood Obesity and Public Health conference is underwritten by the Lead sponsor, Louisiana Council on Obesity Prevention and Management;   Contributing sponsor, Baton Rouge Coca Cola Bottling Company, Inc. and in-kind sponsor, McDonald’s.

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. Go to www.pbrc.edu for more information.

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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.