BATON ROUGE, La. – Eighteen months after receiving a $1 million matching grant to fight obesity, residents of LaSalle Parish are seeing what new ideas and infrastructure can do to improve health.
In August 2012, Cynthia Cockerham, LSU AgCenter area agent in rural development and the executive director of the LaSalle Economic Development District was awarded this grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation to fund what became the Live Lively LaSalle! fitness project.
“We are one of 12 groups that were funded with this matching funds grant,” Cockerham said. The other 11 entities range from programs in New Orleans to Monroe.
The collaborating partners for the LaSalle Parish grant are the Town of Jena, Town of Olla, Town of Urania, Town of Tullos, LaSalle General Hospital, Hardtner Medical Center, the Jena Band of Choctaw, the LaSalle Parish Police Jury’s Recreation District #10 and #22, and the Centennial Cultural Center.
Of the 12 projects funded, the Live Lively LaSalle! fitness project is the only one that encompassed an entire parish, she said.
“We had to be able to prove this type program changed behavior and made impacts,” she said.
What Cockerham envisioned was an active community, complete with walking paths, biking trails, skate parks, basketball courts and a splash park.
The campaign is a three-year initiative that will include a newspaper, website and flyers with information about health, nutrition and exercise.
Parish statistics show there is a need for a program of this nature. Cockerham said of the nearly 15,000 residents in LaSalle Parish, 38 percent are estimated to be obese and 68 percent are estimated to be overweight or obese.
There also are other pieces to the grant, she said. “It is about eating local, and we will have three farmers markets.”
One way the residents get involved in a healthy lifestyle is by applying for 12-week scholarships to one of the area fitness centers, Cockerham said.
“When we wrote the proposal, we were wide open to ideas for implementing the grant,” she said. “The only requirement was the programs had to be researched-based, so the results could be measured. We have to be able to prove that this type program really changes behavior and makes an impact.”