(Editor’s note: Dr. Heli Roy, a nutritionist with a joint appointment at the Pennington Biomedical Research Institute and the LSU AgCenter, writes the guest blog today. Her topic is the recent report card issued by Pennington giving a low grade to Louisiana for children’s health. Roy was part of the advisory committee that prepared this report, which will be an annual event. This is the last guest blog in the Chancellor’s Challenge. Next week, LSU AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson will write his last blog in the series.)
Louisiana received an overall grade of D on the first Louisiana Report Card on Physical Activity and Health for Children and Youth, which was released recently. If we think about this grade as a school grade, we know it is very low. We would like it to be an A or a B. What it also means is that we have a lot of work to do to bring it up. We should not feel bad. Canada has been releasing its Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth since 2005 and has received a grade of D for every year since. What the grade of D means is there are insufficient appropriate physical activity opportunities and programs available to the majority of Canadian children and youth.
Below are the different components of the report card and the grades:
D - Physical Activity Levels
Less than 30% of LA youth get vigorous physical activity every day. Yet, males are more active than females and activity decreases with age. Physical inactivity is related to poor cardiovascular, metabolic and psychosocial health in children and youth.
D - Screen Time
In LA, 53% of youth spend more than two hours a day watching TV or playing video games. Furthermore, African American children and youth have higher levels of TV viewing than white and Hispanic children and youth. The odds of being overweight increase with higher levels of TV viewing in youth.
C - Sports Participation
Over half (53%) of LA children and youth play after-school sports. However, more males participate than females. White children and youth play more after-school sports than African American or Hispanic children and youth.
F - Overweight and Obesity
Over one-third (36%) of LA children and youth are overweight or obese. Also, more males are overweight or obese compared to females and more African American children and youth are overweight or obese compared to white and Hispanic children and youth. There are increasing numbers of overweight and obese children and youth across the country.
C - Overall Physical and Psychosocial Well-Being
Physical inactivity in teens is associated with engaging in risky behaviors, low self-esteem, poor academic performance, and poor future adult health. Between 35% and 40% of LA children and youth reported depressive symptoms. However, there is insufficient information available for children and youth in LA to grade this indicator.
Policy and Investments:
B - Progress on Government Strategies and Policies
LA has a state-created Council on Obesity Prevention and Management. Several laws have been passed recently that promote active living in children and youth, including the requirement of daily physical activity in elementary school.
Incomplete - Government Investments
Government investment is key to enacting and enforcing policies that affect public health. Insufficient information is available on state-specific resources allocated to physical activity and/or healthy community design.
Incomplete - Industry and Philanthropic Investments
There is growing awareness and concern about childhood physical inactivity and obesity among corporate and philanthropic organizations. Limited information is available in the section. However, it is critical for future versions of the report card.
Incomplete - Family Perceptions and Roles Regarding Physical Activity
Parental modeling, monitoring and family cohesion are associated with more physical activity and less TV viewing. Over 80% of LA parents usually or always attend the extracurricular activities or events of their children; however, there is insufficient information available specific to physical activity to provide a grade this year.
School and Community:
D - Physical Activity Programming at School
In LA, 46% of LA high school students report going to physical education class five days per week. However, there were drastic declines from 9th (64%) to 12th (26%) grade. The most recent data available are from 1997, highlighting the importance of updating information on physical education participation in children and youth.
C - Training of School Personnel in Physical Activity
LA requires that newly-hired middle school and high school physical education teachers have a college degree in physical education or a related field and several types of continuing education opportunities are offered to LA physical education teachers. However, limited information is available regarding physical activity training for other school personnel.
Incomplete - Community Infrastructure, Facilities, and Programs
There is a relationship between the existence of parks and recreation facilities and levels of physical activity. Further, aspects of the built environment such as the walk-ability of neighborhoods and the amount of green space have also been associated with levels of physical activity and obesity. Very little information is available on this topic.
The purpose of the report card is to assess the level of physical activity and sedentary behaviors in Louisiana children and youth, the level of facilitators and barriers to physical activity behaviors, and their related health outcomes. Dr. Peter Katzmarzyk from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center chaired a committee that developed the report card. The committee was made up of individuals from many groups and organizations across the state representing educators, physicians, and researchers. The committee drafted the report card based on available data. There was not enough data for several categories. Therefore, Louisiana got an incomplete for those areas (overall physical and psycho-social well-being; government investments; family perceptions and roles regarding physical activity; and community infrastructure, facilities and programs).
The report card is an important instrument for everyone interested in children’s health and wellness to use as a baseline from which we can improve. The card can be used for obtaining funding (research funding), for improving programs (nutrition and physical activity in schools and communities), and increasing the awareness of the issues are children are facing. For more information, go to the Put Active Play in Every Child’s Day Web site.
It is an important for Louisiana to have this document as a baseline from which we can move forward. This is an impetus to improve our communities, making them safer and providing green spaces for our children and families, and for improving school nutrition and physical activity programs.