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Posted: Friday, 27 June 2014 6:29AM

Tulane awarded grant to fight obesity in New Orleans

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have awarded a $4.3 million, five-year competitive grant to the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University to help it continue fighting obesity and supporting healthier communities in New Orleans.

Keelia O'Malley, Assistant Director for the Center, admits $4.3 million is not a lot of money to fight such a weighty problem, and it's one they've been working on for some time.

"It's tough in this city, says O'Malley. "There's so much good food out there."

Actually, access to good food, healthy food, has been one of the areas the PRC has been working to improve.

The Center has conducted extensive research on food access in New Orleans, post-Katrina, and served as an important resource for policymakers in the debate over "food deserts," areas without that access.

After the PRC's core research project showed that many New Orleans neighborhoods lack access to healthy foods, the city of New Orleans established a $14 million Fresh Food Retailer Initiative to fight the problem.

But, O'Malley says another component of the problem is lack of physical activity. So, the PRC's efforts are also twofold.

"Hoping to promote the ability for people to be more physically active and making it easier for them to have access to healthier foods...trying to promote consumption of fresh foods, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables."

"We're really wanting to focus on both food access as well as the physical activity component," O'Malley says. "Because a lot of the issues tend to be overlapping."

The PRC has also evaluated the city's bike lane infrastructure and supported programs to improve sidewalks, bike lanes and crosswalks to make it safer for children to walk or bike to school.

This is the PRC's fourth, five-year CDC grant since the center was founded in 1998 to explore how physical and social environments affect obesity and public health in Louisiana.

And, although O'Malley says not enough progress has been made, obesity rates in the city are offering some hope.

"For years the rates just kept increasing and increasing," says O'Malley. "And, recently we have seen more of a plateau where the rates are no longer increasing like they were. The obesity rates in New Orleans, currently, are pretty much in line with the national trends."


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