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AgCenter Healthy Communities initiative wins national award

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Writer: Olivia McClure at omcclure@agcenter.lsu.edu

An LSU AgCenter team recently received a national honor for its Healthy Communities initiative, which aims to increase access to nutritious foods and provide more opportunities for physical activity.

The Jeanne M. Priester Organizational Culture of Health Award was presented to Denise Holston, AgCenter nutrition specialist and Healthy Communities principal investigator; Jamila Freightman, program manager; and Matt Greene, program evaluator. They received the award May 5 at the National Health Outreach Conference in Kansas City, Missouri.

The award recognizes extension programs that foster community partnerships to improve health.

Healthy Communities programs in parishes across Louisiana facilitate coalitions that allow residents to share their concerns and brainstorm ideas to improve health.

The initiative focuses on underserved communities. It is supported by the Centers for Disease Control High Obesity Program; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education, or SNAP-Ed; and AgCenter family and consumer sciences nutrition programs.

Louisiana ranks as one of the unhealthiest states in the nation, with high rates of obesity and many residents reporting low levels of physical activity and limited consumption of fruits and vegetables, Holston said.

“Education alone is not enough to promote healthier behaviors, particularly for those whose food and physical activity environments are not supportive of adoption of these health behaviors,” she said. “The LSU AgCenter has recognized that community members, led by extension agents, are experts on their communities and that communities should decide which policy, systems and environmental changes to make. Our goal is safe, healthy food and physical activity access for all. By elevating the voices and concerns of community members, sustainable change is much more likely.”

AgCenter agents lead or participate in 98 Healthy Communities coalitions across the state. Some examples of their accomplishments include establishing new crosswalks, wayfinding signs, speed bumps and sidewalks; launching and expanding farmers markets; encouraging grocery stores and food pantries to increase healthful offerings; supporting community gardens; and setting up spaces where residents can safely exercise.

Greene, who is evaluating the initiative’s impact, said the Healthy Communities program has been adapted by extension personnel in other states, including North Dakota and Virginia. And the Healthy Communities program manual will soon be distributed nationwide to agencies that conduct SNAP-Ed programs.

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