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Louisiana's kids get low grade on health issues

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BATON ROUGE, La., (KNOE 8 News) - Louisiana's "built environment" is found to be one of the most influential factors impacting the health of children and youth in the state, according to the results of Pennington Biomedical Research Center's 2012 Louisiana Report Card on Physical Activity & Health for Children & Youth.

The 2012 Report Card reveals that the overall heath grade for children and youth in the state is a "D," a grade that has been consistent since the inception of the report card in 2008. The grade includes indicators including physical activity, screen time, sports participation, overweight and obesity, aerobic fitness, overall physical and emotional well-being, fruit and vegetable consumption, tobacco use, physical activity programming at school, training of school personnel in physical activity, and built environment and community design.

The report card, now in its fifth year, provides an authoritative, evidence-based assessment of the status of several health indicators for Louisiana's children using the most recent data available. The 2012 report card adds an additional focus on the "built environment" and how it impacts the health and activity of the youth in Louisiana. The "built environment" refers to human-made features of the community built to facilitate daily life, including everyday things such as streets, shops, restaurants, and parks. In addition to providing an assessment of the behaviors of Louisiana's children and youth, this year's report card includes data from a Physical Activity and Nutrition Guidelines Knowledge Survey, which includes information from approximately 750 parents from around the state of Louisiana.

The report card notes that according to the National Survey of Children's Health, Louisiana ranks worse than the national average in the four categories that the organization uses to assess a neighborhood's propensity for encouraging good health. The study finds that when the built environment, lacks access to parks, playgrounds, sidewalks and fresh food options, both the mental and physical wellness of children is affected.

"When planning the report card this year, we wanted to look at the causes of the health grades for our children," Peter T. Katzmarzyk, Professor and Associate Executive Director for Population Science at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, said. "The results of this year's report card can help to guide the decision makers to making choices that will better the health of our children."

The report card provides results that can also guide parents to making active decisions for their children. For instance, the survey found that 70 percent of Louisiana parents believe either poor diet or a lack of physical activity is the primary cause of childhood obesity. Yet, more than 34.5 percent of students exceeded the recommended amount of screen time, both television and computer, by approximately an hour; and only 5.9 percent of high school students are eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables daily.

"While the built-environment has an enormous impact on children's ability to achieve recommended daily activity, parents, teachers and schools play a large role in shaping the health of the children in our state," Katzmarzyk said.

The report card is a resource for health statistics on children and youth in Louisiana. However, it is most importantly an advocacy tool providing a level of accountability and call-to-action for adult decision makers on how parents, teachers, medical professionals and community leaders can help implement new initiatives, programs and policies in support of health environments to improve the physical activity levels and health of our children. To view a complete copy of the 2012 Report Card, visit Pennington Biomedical Research Center's website at www.pbrc.edu  or www.louisianareportcard.org.

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