(02/02/22) BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana is one of the states with the highest levels of physical inactivity among adults, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity recently released maps showing physical inactivity by state as part of its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
In Louisiana, 30% of adults reported getting no physical activity outside of work. The maps are based on combined data from surveys conducted each year from 2017 to 2020. By region, the south had the highest level of inactivity at 27.5%.
LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities initiative is working to lower that number by improving physical activity opportunities across Louisiana.
Jessica Stroope, an LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities physical activity specialist and research associate, said one of the first steps is looking at the barriers to physical activity in communities, especially in rural areas.
“Just saying you need to be active is not effective. We need to give people strategies and reduce the systemic barriers,” Stroope said.
Some barriers include lack of safe places for walking, lack of parks or loose dogs.
Stroope works with teams in communities to conduct walkability studies, which identify concerns such as the need to add crosswalks, trim trees around sidewalks, and dangerous traffic speeds.
Healthy Communities also works with community partners to stencil activity prompts in parks, schools or other public areas. The stencils are designed to create colorful, painted playgrounds that provide physical activity opportunities for children.
Another component of her work is building awareness around these changes.
“If we make a change such as adding walking trail signs or a crosswalk, we want to have a community event to highlight the change. If we’ve added a crosswalk, it is important to communicate what the laws are around crosswalks and how cars should behave around them—pedestrians always have the right of way in a crosswalk,” she said. “Paint does not in and of itself make people safer or make people move.”
With awareness comes encouragement, Stroope said. Healthy Communities promotes people driving into town and walking while there.
“A lot of communities have a nice little grid where someone can drive and park and walk the six blocks to do their errands,” she said. “It’s good for their health. It’s good for congestion, and it’s good for the economy — pedestrians promote more shopping. If someone is walking from one place to another, they are far more likely to stop in at a store and support the rural economy.”
Sharing resources is also a good way to provide space for exercise, Stroope said. Louisiana state policies promote shared use agreements within communities, such as a high school allowing the public to walk on its track during designated hours or a church allowing children to use a playground.
Stroope stressed that the primary goal of physical activity should be to improve overall health conditions and not weight loss. Physical activity can result in reduced weight but tying activity to weight loss can often lead to disappointment and abandoning the activity if weight loss doesn’t occur quickly.
“We want to improve chronic health conditions, reduce the risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. It’s about improving blood pressure and cholesterol and improving sleep outcomes and cognitive outcomes for the entire lifespan,” she said.
Volunteers paint exercise stencils next to the playground at Ruston Elementary. LSU AgCenter file photo by Cathy Judd.
Members of the St. Helena Healthy Communities coalition participated in a walk audit in Greensburg, La. in 2016 to identify safety concerns for pedestrians and bicyclists. Since then, improvements have been made to crosswalks, parking lots and walking trails around town. LSU AgCenter file photo by Olivia McClure.