- Associated Press - Friday, October 2, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The LSU AgCenter and three partners have a two-year, $1.25 million federal grant for research and outreach to reduce obesity and chronic diseases in three rural Louisiana parishes: Madison, St. Helena and Tensas.

Those parishes have some of Louisiana’s highest rates of poverty and obesity, said AgCenter dietitian Denise Holston-West, principal investigator under the grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The project will work to improve access to nutritious foods and healthy recreation, and to help people learn healthy behavior.

“We want this to be driven by people in the local community,” Holston-West said in an AgCenter news release Thursday. “It’s important for them to have a say so we can understand their needs and challenges and help address them.”

She said the first step will be to hold community forums to learn about problems and consider ways to overcome them. For instance, she said, residents of small communities often have limited access to grocery stores that sell fresh produce or to parks for recreation.

Working with the AgCenter are the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Southern will help establish community and school gardens and cooking camps in the three parishes. Pennington will handle evaluations and track information such as changes in residents’ health knowledge and attitudes. The health department is participating through its Well-Ahead Louisiana program, which encourages people to eat better, exercise more and cut tobacco use.

LSU is the eighth school to get one of the CDC grants for land-grant universities in states where counties have obesity rates of at least 40 percent.

The AgCenter, Southern and Pennington have run a similar program in West Carroll Parish since 2013.

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