Experts believe Louisiana can avoid trend, costs of rising obesity

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 4:00pm

A new study shows that Louisiana's waistline is growing, and that it won't slim down any time soon.

The report by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows a dreary future for Louisiana's health.

The most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put Louisiana's obesity rate at 33.4 percent, which is the second-highest in the nation. According to the new study, by the year 2030, that number could rise as high as 62.1 percent.

Some experts think the high incidence of obesity is due to our much-beloved Louisiana cuisine, with its fried, fatty foods.

Many people use fattening ingredients in their cooking because "this is how my grandparents used to do it, this is how it's been done my whole life. My mom and dad cooked that way," said Jeremy Coco, Dean of Education at Louisiana Culinary Institute.

Obesity is not only a serious public health problem, but a large financial issue as well. Trust for America's Health says if Louisiana residents reduced the body mass index by five percent (the equivalent of ten pounds for an average man), they could save a collective $10 billion by 2030.

So how can Louisiana keep the next generation from also becoming overweight?

"I think when it comes to our kids," said Coco, "it all starts at home, and in our schools."

Parkview Baptist is one of many schools trying to get its students to embrace healthy living. Part of that process involved a complete overhaul of its cafeteria menu.

"We do not have any frying of our meals here," said Martha Long, the school's director of educational operations. "We have created healthy vending machines on campus, so when they want a snack, they have a choice of a healthy snack."

Johnny Blount, who owns Geaux Crossfit gym, says the best way to get kids to think healthy is for parents to set a good example from the start.

"Parents will bring their kids in here," said Blount, "and I'll look over, and the kid's doing push-ups while they're doing push-ups in the workout. You know, they're just supposed to be sitting there and watching, and they want to do what their parents are doing."

"If you start from the beginning," added Long, "and offer them a healthy choice, chances are, that is what they are going to choose."

Most people think eating healthy foods will cost too much. But for many families, it might be less expensive choice than their current diets.

"Let's be honest," said Blount, "most people go out and eat all the time. You can actually save money by buying your own food and cooking it."

Giving tips to help people adopt a healthier lifestyle is easy. But Blount believes that getting Louisianans to improve their health is a daunting proposition.

"Sometimes, you might have a better chance of changing their religion than changing their exercise and eating habits," he said.

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