Louisiana 4-H partnership to fight obesity epidemic

BATON ROUGE — Louisiana 4-H and UnitedHealthcare have partnered to promote healthy living by launching a new campaign designed to empower youth to help fight the nation’s obesity epidemic.

The partnership, called Eat4-Health, is activating thousands of 4-H youth ambassadors to make healthy choices for themselves and encourage friends, families and people in their communities to make positive changes through training, creative programs and educational events. It currently spans 10 states, including Louisiana.

At the partnership launch in Baton Rouge Saturday, UnitedHealthcare’s mascot Dr. Health E. Hound joined 4-H youth at the annual 4-H get-together at the Louisiana State University AgCenter to encourage attendees to stay active and eat healthy. During this annual celebration, more than 2,000 families and 4-H’ers participated in activities designed to promote fitness such as sports competitions, dancing and rock-climbing. Attendees learned healthy-eating tips from UnitedHealthcare employees, and Dr. Health E. Hound led hundreds of attendees in a simple, group dance and fitness activity designed to burn calories and promote health.

University officials and local community leaders joined in the events and participated in an official partnership announcement, where UnitedHealthcare presented a $30,000 check to Louisiana 4-H to launch the program.

Eat4-Health builds on UnitedHealthcare’s successful partnership with National 4-H Council that began last year in Florida, Mississippi and Texas. The campaign is expanding to Arizona, New York, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Tennessee, as well as Louisiana. Each state 4-H organization is receiving a $30,000 grant funded by UnitedHealthcare to support healthy-living programs, events and other activities administered by 4-H that encourage young people and their families to eat more nutritious foods and exercise regularly. The partnership in Louisiana is being administered through the LSU Ag Center.

“Louisiana 4-H is built on the foundation that we are preparing our youth for the challenges of tomorrow. Learning to make educated choices that promote an active and healthy lifestyle is part of our mission,” said Paul Coreil, vice chancellor of the LSU AgCenter and director of Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service. “This partnership supports several of our 4-H programs and will encourage participating youth, their families and friends involved to stay active and have a balanced diet through positive messaging.”

Participating 4-H state programs receiving a grant will develop action plans that provide innovative, hands-on learning approaches that target specific community needs in their state. Many of these activities will support healthy-living programs led by 4-H that encourage youth and community participation through events such as health fairs, cooking demonstrations, after-school programs, workshops and educational forums, among others. UnitedHealthcare employees will team up with 4-H at many of these events, assisting with planning and executing projects that lead to positive, sustainable change at the community and individual level.

As part of the Eat4-Health campaign, each state is organizing a Youth Summit/Conference to train 4-H youth ambassadors to implement the programs and help reach the goals in each state. The summits will provide the venue where participants will learn more about nutrition, health and fitness, obtain information on promoting health within their communities, and gain new tools for participating in multisession educational trainings and one-time community activities and events. This teen leadership experience will also serve as a launch to a Teen Ambassadors pledge and prepare 4-H’ers to use their increased healthy-living knowledge and skills to make an impact in their own communities.

Online and printed educational materials will enable participants to learn and commit to making healthier choices. To encourage participation, the campaign will provide simple tips for healthy choices when food shopping, preparing home meals and school lunches, when out with friends or at special occasions.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity among children and adolescents has almost tripled since 1980, with nearly one in every three children being overweight or obese. Children from low-income and low-education households are three-times more likely to be obese. America’s Health Rankings, an annual comprehensive assessment of the nation’s health on a state-by-state basis, indicates that obesity is a leading risk factor for diabetes, heart disease and many cancers. The estimated economic cost of obesity is $270 billion per year.

4-H reaches 6 million youth each year, 2.5 million of whom participate in healthy-living programs that promote nutrition, wellness and physical activities.

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