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Researchers find community-wide programs make a difference in healthy behaviors

Researchers find community-wide programs make a difference in healthy behaviors

Researchers from LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center have found that a community-level approach to obesity can inspire participants to adopt healthier weight-related behavior.  Their findings were published this fall in Health Promotion Practice, which includes peer-reviewed articles devoted to the practical application of health promotion and education.

The results of the study are based on participants in 11 community-wide projects across the state funded by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation.  Through its Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana (“Challenge Grant”) project, the Foundation awarded more than $10 million in grants to local coalitions who implemented health-focused infrastructure improvements, policy changes, and programs like farmers markets, cooking classes and exercise classes.  Ultimately, Challenge Grant projects attracted more than $20 million in investments and included hundreds of partners.

6 Health group exerciseAt the conclusion of Challenge Grant activities, there were indications for improvements in healthy eating and physical activity. Participants who were exposed to the program’s physical activity components were twice as likely to adopt the consumption of fruits, showed a more than two-fold increase in odds of consuming vegetables once per day, and showed a more than two-fold increase in the odds of engaging in physical activity and exercise outside of a regular job

Participants who were exposed to the healthy eating component of the program were also almost twice as likely to report eating fruits and vegetables at least once per day.

“The results of this study indicate that the Challenge Grant program resulted in positive changes in weight-related health behaviors among participants,” said study co-author Peter Katzmarzyk, PhD, FACSM, associate executive director for population and public health sciences at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

“The results are consistent with the ‘small changes’ approach to obesity prevention.  In other words, small, positive changes in health-related behaviors are believed to be important in sustaining long-term health habits,” he said.

The study’s co-authors stress the difficulty in controlling for factors that influence health outcomes in community program evaluation.  As a result, many other studies in this area have not produced measurable results, which makes the Challenge Grant evaluation stand apart.  Pennington researchers believe that the trends in behavioral changes observed in this study may yield significant results down the line.

“As with many public health outcomes,” said study co-author Stephanie Broyles, PhD and associate professor of research at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, “the benefits of community-level efforts to reduce obesity may not be evident for many years.”

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation said the results of Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana have led it to continue funding similar efforts.

“Based on this evidence, we are even more certain that communities working together to solve complex health problems stand the best chance of making systemic changes in health,” said Michael Tipton, president of the Blue Cross Foundation.

The Foundation is currently accepting grant applications from community coalitions working to address public health issues and the upstream factors that cause them.  For those interested in submitting an application for the Foundation’s grantmaking program, Tipton encourages them to reach out to Foundation staff to begin a conversation.  Applications are accepted throughout the year, and it can take six to eight weeks to put together an application.

Information about Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana, contact information for Foundation staff members, as well as information about the organization’s grant programs, can be found online at www.bcbslafoundation.org/CHL

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