LAFAYETTE — More than 100 competitors were challenged to come up with innovative solutions and new technologies to address the problem of childhood obesity at Cajun Code Fest on Friday at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning.
The questions facing competitors at the event, which concludes Saturday, included how to get youngsters, and their parents, to make better choices when deciding what goes on the dinner table and how to get them away from the computer or television and more active.
Childhood obesity is one of the most important problems facing the country today and in Louisiana, nearly a third of children are either overweight or obese, Louisiana Secretary of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein told competitors Friday.
Louisiana is part of the diabetes belt, Greenstein said as he showed graphics of obesity and diabetes rates for the United States. Both health issues are more prevalent in the southeastern U.S., according to data Greenstein shared.
Each year, 1,400 Louisiana residents die from diabetes, he said.
“As we’re working here … people are dying from diabetes,” Greenstein said.
At least 115 competitors fielded 15 teams from the United States, Canada and Germany. The university’s Center for Business Information and Technology hosted the event in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, FiberCorps and private industry to promote the creation of new technologies that could help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic.
Ramesh Kolluru, director of the Center for Business and Information Technology, said he hopes the Lafayette challenge helps create new industry as it works on solutions to the health issue.
“We hope that teams continue to build on their concepts,” Kolluru said.
The winning team will be announced Saturday and will receive $25,000, as well as a qualifying entry to the national Health Datapalooza, a showcase of innovative technologies that address health issues. The national Health Datapalooza has led to several start-up companies, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park told competitors Friday.
“There’s no problem that we can’t invent our way out of,” Park said.
At the Cajun Code Fest, teams were provided 37 sets of Louisiana and federal data, including school-based health center clinical data; student performance evaluation data; vital records; hospital inpatient and emergency room claims; and vital records statistics.
A team of Ryan Bourque, Troy Ingram and Timothy Kocher used social networking as a motivator to promote healthy living. The group developed an “achievement” system that tracks and rewards youngsters’ good eating habits and activities.
“If you do 10 jumping jacks, you get 10 points. Eat your green beans, you get points,” said Bourque, of Abbeville. The program also involves parents, who can tap into the program and offer real-life rewards to their children for their good decisions, he said. Youngsters can also track their friends’ progress, which could spark some healthy competition, he said.
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For more information, visit: http://cajuncodefest.org.