Our Views: La. fighting nutrition battle

Obesity and related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease are a continuing challenge for Louisiana.

Nowhere is that more true than among low-income families who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps.

Healthy eating can be especially difficult in low-income areas where groceries with a range of healthy items are in short supply. And, of course, money is in short supply, too.

We know much about these problems because of the internationally recognized research at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, based in Baton Rouge but with a statewide and national mission of promoting nutrition.

We also see commendable efforts to provide oases of healthier foods in the “food deserts” in urban areas. Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration has made this a priority in New Orleans. The Together Baton Rouge alliance of congregations is holding a citywide summit on Monday to talk about food deserts and potential solutions in the capital city.

But access is not the only problem; there is also the issue of preparing healthier meals. It can be done, according to experts at the LSU Agricultural Center, who have tapped federal funds for an 18-month promotion of healthier eating.

The campaign is focused on food stamp recipients, with billboards, posters and banners in schools and elsewhere to push a healthy agenda: more fresh fruits and vegetables and increased physical activity, which can be as simple as walking more and couch-potatoing less.

“If young people realize the importance of making good eating choices and getting physical activity, they can bring that knowledge home to their families,” Diane Sasser of the AgCenter said. “The opposite is true, as well, because their parents might participate in SNAP-Ed programs that teach them how to be a role model for their children. The billboards reinforce those lessons.”

Family engagement is a critical part of this new initiative, to have the family unit talking about good food rather than the easiest and quickest choices.

“It’s not about steering them away from fast food restaurants,” Sasser told The Associated Press. “We want to make them aware of healthier options like apple slices that they can choose, even in those situations. The goal is to get them actively thinking about what they eat.”

We hope these efforts are successful given the unhappy statistics that we see all the time about poor educational attainment and the high percentage of Louisiana children who live in poverty.

Feeding these young minds will require properly feeding their bodies, too.