The statistics are sobering.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in five children nationwide between the ages of six to 17 are overweight.  This is double the number reported just 30 years ago.  To help combat this problem, the La. Department of Health will be starting a four-month program aimed at getting kids off the couch and burning calories.

Lighten Up Louisiana Kids, which follows on the heels of the overwhelmingly successful adult version, will begin February 1.  Registration is currently underway for the competition, which will run through May 16, 2005.  The program is sponsored by the Department of Health Office of Public Health, the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, LaCHIP, Office of Group Benefits, The Baton Rouge Clinic, DeAngelo’s Pizzeria, Johnson & Johnson, Subway, Hollingsworth Mazda and the American Dairy Association.

Teams of 10 to 30 kids, led by an adult team captain, will track their activity miles on a colorful wall chart that will be provided at no cost to entrants.   Team captains are encouraged to begin forming teams and registering for the program.   Members earn miles by doing activities such as jumping rope, skateboarding and playing team sports.  Even participating in physical education class earns miles.  Teams can consist of students from school classes, members of 4-H clubs, after-school programs, church youth groups, scout troops, and even brothers and sisters. Participants must be 17 years old or younger.   

Lighten Up Louisiana Kids team captains will receive nutrition and activity tips throughout the program.   In addition, there will be weekly drawings for prizes throughout the competition. The top three teams will be awarded medals at the State Capitol in front of Gov. Blanco and the entire legislature.  They will also receive V.I.P. passes to the 2005 Junior Olympic Games in New Orleans.  The number one ranking team will have their pictures featured on a billboard in their hometown. 

In its partnership with LaCHIP (the Louisiana Children’s Health Insurance Program), Lighten Up Louisiana Kids teams will be encouraged to reach out to their friends and neighbors who might need health care coverage. The team that is most successful at signing up others for LaCHIP will receive a special grand prize.  This will be based on the number of applications received and includes both children without insurance and those currently on LaCHIP who renew their coverage for another 12 months.

The Baton Rouge Clinic and the American Dairy Association will provide pedometers free of charge to the first 1,000 kids who sign up for the program.  Accessories, including a “Louisiana Kids Helping Tsunami Kids” awareness bracelet, will be available for purchase.

“We are thrilled to introduce a program focused on Louisiana kids,” said Rudy Macklin, director of the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. “Lighten Up Louisiana proved that team competition is a great motivator.  I am looking forward to similar success with Lighten Up Louisiana Kids.”

Captains can register their teams now by logging onto and clicking on Lighten Up Kids or mailing a completed registration form to Office of Public Health, Lighten Up Louisiana Kids, 325 Loyola Ave., Room 315, New Orleans, La. 70112. REGISTRATION AND PARTICIPATION ARE FREE.

“I want to encourage all Louisiana students to participate in this competition,” said LDH Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise. “By charting everyday activity, kids will get a better understanding of what it means to be physically fit.”

Lighten Up Louisiana Kids is modeled after a similar program, Go the Distance, which is run through Iowa State University and the Iowa State Games. For more information on the Lighten Up Louisiana Kids Program, please visit or call toll free 1-800-352-6491.