LSU AgCenter, Pennington join to fight obesity

Top officials at the LSU AgCenter and Pennington Biomedical Research Center signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Friday to join forces in a five-year initiative to fight obesity in Louisiana.

Bill Richardson, LSU AgCenter chancellor, and Steven Heymsfield, Pennington’s executive director, agreed to work together and mount a major educational campaign.

“We already work together on many projects, but we want to intensify this effort to match the severity of the obesity problem we have here in Louisiana,” Richardson said.

“Pennington is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the causes of obesity,” Heymsfield said. “We want to channel this expertise and information through the AgCenter’s outreach network across the state.”

In the past two decades Louisiana has moved from a state with an obesity rate of 14 percent of its population to one of 12 states in 2010 with more than 30 percent of the population affected by obesity, according to Richardson.

“The health care costs associated with obesity continue to rise,” Richardson said. “Our goal is to help slow this epidemic and reduce these costs.”

The AgCenter conducts educational programs in all 64 parishes of the state through its extension offices. All parishes are served through a nutrition education system already in place.

AgCenter and Pennington faculty will develop a variety of educational programs and promotional campaigns using many tools, including written materials, websites, radio and television. They will also work with schools, 4-H, and community and faith-based groups.

The two institutions will work jointly to seek funding from various sources, including the state.

“To do what we want to do takes money,” Richardson said. “But if we are successful — and we will be successful — this effort will save the state money.”

“Obese adults are documented to have 36 percent higher average annual medical expenditures compared to adults at normal weight. In 2008, these costs reached $1.18 billion in Louisiana. Projections show that these costs could increase to $6.07 billion by 2018,” said Carol Lammi-Keefe, a nutritionist with a joint appointment between the AgCenter and Pennington and one of the leaders of this project.

Both the AgCenter and Pennington are part of the LSU System. John Lombardi, LSU System president, also signed the agreement.

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