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Lisa Faust, Director

Bureau of Media and Communications

Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals

225.342.7913 office

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Angela deGravelles

Pennington Biomedical Research Center

225.202.5073, cell


Pennington Biomedical Research Center and Louisiana Department of Health Announce Research and Health Interventions to Fight Obesity in Louisiana

BATON ROUGE - Today, health care leaders from across the state gathered at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge to announce new health outcomes goals, steps being taken to address obesity in Louisiana and to issue a challenge to the people of Louisiana.

"As rates of childhood obesity continue to rise, many of our children are now affected by chronic disease once thought of as just for grown-ups.  In fact, last week a panel of national experts released new guidelines that all U.S. children should now have their cholesterol tested between the ages of 9 and 11" said Department of Health Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein. "Too many Louisiana parents are allowing, and in some cases, encouraging behaviors that lead to obesity and a lifetime of health problems. While obesity is seen as a complex public health problem, the reality is that the best solutions can be quite simple. Eat healthier and exercise, every day. That's where we can start. These are things every one of us can do for and with our children."  

Today's announcement was made in conjunction with a release of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center's annual report, Louisiana's Report Card on Physical Activity and Health for Children and Youth. This is the fourth year Pennington Biomedical has released such a report. Instead of releasing a letter grade, though, this year's report takes a new approach by establishing baseline data for each of the key 19 obesity indicators that Pennington tracks and then sets specific statewide targets for improvement in each indicator by 2020.

 The report cards for 2008, 2009 and 2010 revealed the state's high rate of overweight and obese children, low rate of exercise and low frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption among children and adolescents, which contributed to overall grades of D each year.  

Peter Katzmarzyk, Ph.D., Associate Executive Director for Population Science at Pennington Biomedical Research Center and Chairman of the Report Card Research Advisory Committee, said that while the indicators reported in the document continue to represent significant health concerns for Louisiana's children, it is possible to reduce negative rates if communities work together.  "The problem of childhood obesity is multi-factorial, which means it's going to take tackling it from a number of directions to see a change. It's crucial that everyone gets involved," Katzmarzyk said.

Katzmarzyk adds it's also important for communities to understand that change is possible, but it doesn't happen overnight. He compares it to another public health issue: smoking. "At one time, no one thought it was possible to reduce smoking rates, but since 1964, the prevalence of smoking has decreased from 42 percent to 21 percent," he said. "This is a huge change, but it took 45 years to achieve. I anticipate turning the tide on physical inactivity and obesity is an equally, if not more challenging proposition."

The data and targets in the 2011 Louisiana's Report Card on Physical Activity and Health for Children and Youth are specific to the population of children and youth in Louisiana and take a more aggressive approach than the national objectives. The report calls for a 20 percent improvement in physical traits such as obesity and physical fitness, and a 40 percent improvement in modifiable behaviors such as physical activity and nutrition by 2020.

Some of the 2011 Louisiana Report Card's 2020 targets set by Pennington Biomedical include:

  • Decrease the proportion of children and adolescents who are obese by 20 percent.   Current Louisiana baseline: 29 percent of children and adolescents 2-19 years are obese. This does not include overweight individuals. When included, the proportion of obese and overweight children and adolescents in Louisiana is estimated at 47.5 percent.
  • Increase the proportion of adolescents who meet current federal physical activity guidelines for aerobic physical activity by 40 percent. Current Louisiana baseline: 23 percent of adolescents in grades 9-12 participate in physical activity.
  • Decrease the proportion of adolescents who exceed recommended limits for screen time by 40 percent. Current Louisiana baseline: 40.3 percent of adolescents in grades 9-12 exceed limits for watching TV and videos or playing video games.
  • Increase the intake of fruits and vegetables in the diets of adolescents by 40 percent.  Current Louisiana baseline: 9.7 percent of adolescents in grades 9-12 eat three or more servings of vegetables a day, and 3.5 percent of adolescents in grades 9-12 consume four or more servings of fruit per day.
  • Increase the proportion of children and adolescents who have favorable neighborhood amenities that promote physical opportunities by 20 percent.   Current Louisiana baseline: 65.6 percent of 0-17 year-olds live near a park or playground.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009, Louisiana had the second highest rate of obesity in the nation. With a third of the state - 33.9 percent - considered obese, Louisiana's obesity rate has nearly doubled since 1999 when it was 17.7 percent. Obesity is a serious threat as it has been linked to gallstones, liver problems, heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, high blood cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes and even some types of cancer.  

"I want to thank Pennington and the sponsors of this report for the commitment they have shown to addressing this problem. This is not just LDH or Pennington's data- these statistics belong to every resident of our state. We all own this problem and we must all own the solutions," Secretary Greenstein said.

LDH is working with Pennington and other partners including LSU Health Sciences Center, Louisiana Business Group on Health, Nicholls State University, the Louisiana Hospital Association and others to establish best practices that support better eating and exercise habits for all Louisianians.

Some steps beginning immediately include:

  • The healthy foods in hospitals initiative. LDH is establishing healthy standard food guidelines for all of its facilities and working with LSU and LHA to work toward similar goals in all of the state's hospitals.
  • The healthy foods in hospitals initiative also includes a partnership with Nicholls State University to develop a culinary arts and nutrition program for students and people cooking in health care institutions.
  • Worksite Wellness. The Louisiana Business Group on Health in conjunction with LDH and several other partners is releasing a Worksite Wellness tool kit to help Louisiana businesses begin and maintain worksite wellness programs.
  • Living Well Louisiana. In 2012, LDH will launch a new web-based tool called Living Well in Louisiana where residents can track their exercise against individualized goals, challenge themselves and others and get important information on eating healthier and exercising.
  • BAYOU HEALTH implementation. LDH will be working with the BAYOU HEALTH plans to establish quality standards and goals for members of their health plans.

The LDH guidelines for health care institutions will eliminate fried foods and increase the amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables that are served.

"As leaders of the state health department, we are in a position to make a difference by modeling healthful nutrition, active lifestyles and adopting food purchasing and preparation policies in our own facilities that promote healthy lifestyles," Secretary Greenstein added. "DHH is proud to lead the way with our facilities. I look forward to the day when similar guidelines are in place in all health care facilities across Louisiana."  

John Matessino, Louisiana Hospital Association President and CEO, said, "In an effort to combat obesity, the hospital industry is launching its Smart Choices, Better Health Campaign in January. The LHA will be providing Louisiana hospitals with training and resources to implement hospital-specific action plans to help their staff and communities fight obesity by promoting policy changes and programs that encourage healthy eating and exercise."

Frederick P. Cerise, MD, MPH, Vice President of LSU System Office of Health Affairs and Medical Education, said, "As a major health care provider in Louisiana, LSU is confronted every day with the reality of the adverse consequences of obesity in our state.  With clinical and educational resources across Louisiana, LSU is committed to attacking this problem with LDH and Pennington as our partners.  So many health problems suffered by both adults and children in this state are the result of obesity leading to shorter life spans and poor health outcomes.   We know that being unhealthy results in children who can't learn and adults who can't earn.  Working together we can identify and implement solutions to this epidemic in order to improve the health of our population." 


"We at Nicholls hope to increase health and nutrition awareness in the generation of students passing through Nicholls right now," said Dr. John Doucet, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a Certified Public Health Geneticist.  "These students are future parents to the next generation and future caretakers of the current generation."

Louisiana's Report Card on Physical Activity and Health for Children and Youth is underwritten by Gold sponsors: Louisiana Council on Obesity Prevention and Management, Louisiana Action for Healthy Kids, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, and Louisiana Public Facilities Authority; and Bronze sponsor, Baton Rouge Coca-Cola. Pennington Biomedical leads this initiative in coordination with the Pennington Biomedical Research Foundation.

For free copies of the Report Card summary and the full research report, go to or

About the Pennington Biomedical Research Center        

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. It is a campus of the Louisiana State University System 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 50 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dieticians, and support personnel, and 19 highly specialized core service facilities.  Pennington Biomedical's more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 234-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  For more information, see  

About the Department of Health

The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's blog, Twitter account and Facebook.