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Giving Back: Pennington Biomedical Research Center’s Greaux Healthy initiative

Third. That’s where Louisiana ranks out of the 50 states for its rate of childhood obesity. And in a nation dealing with elevated instances of the disease, such a rank is particularly concerning because childhood obesity often leads to not only obesity as an adult, but other chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

These alarming statistics are the driving force behind the work of Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and are also what inspired the organization’s newest initiative, Greaux Healthy. The goal of the newly established program is to address the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity by offering resources to a wide array of community stakeholders.

There’s parents—from expecting to supporting school-age children. Then there’s educators, healthcare providers, community members and even teens and young adults. The goal is to meet people where they are and get everyone united and equipped with correct and constructive information and advice.

“Children are our future,” says Melissa Martin, director of Greaux Healthy. “We need to stop being ranked in the top five across the nation for things like chronic diseases.”

With over 35 years of obesity research, Pennington offers a unique perspective on the issue. And through Greaux Healthy, the research center aims to bring  high-quality data and information directly to the community to guide the development of best practices and new programs like mobile apps for getting kids moving.

“One of the hardest parts about treating obesity, especially among adolescents, is how to address it without weight bias or stigmatizing language,” Martin says, noting her personal experience as a mother to two teenage daughters, and the fear of how they’ll feel when they hear their weight. “Although these conversations about weight are not easy to have, we need to be more comfortable talking about it so that they’re happening more often.”

Prevention efforts begin at conception, or even earlier, to best support a child’s healthy weight. But as a child becomes a toddler, it’s especially critical for them to begin developing fundamental motor skills in order to support healthy movement and exercise for the rest of their lives.

“The more developed and confident young children feel in jumping and running, the more likely they are to be active,” Martin explains, adding that many people find it hard to believe how many preschoolers aren’t able to throw or kick a ball. Greaux Healthy launches its space-themed app, Mission Play, this month, which aims to increase the development of these motor skills through a fun platform.

While prevention is important, it’s not sufficient given the number of children already diagnosed with obesity. Crucially, Martin notes that obesity is a disease, not a lifestyle choice. She puts it simply, stating that if you have high blood pressure, you have a conversation with your doctor, and a treatment plan is determined. “The same thing should be said for obesity,” Martin says. “It’s a chronic disease, and there are treatment options.”

Pennington has conducted clinical trials for nearly every obesity and diabetes medication on the market. Researchers are now actively educating healthcare providers on safe and effective drugs to treat childhood obesity, as well as other treatment options.

“The movement of research into practice is crucial for improving population health, as well as assuring the community a return on investment for participating in research,” Martin says. “People need to know what the scientists are finding, especially when this science is being discovered in our own backyard.”

The ultimate goal of Greaux Healthy, Martin says, is to equip and empower people throughout the community with the tools needed to make a difference in children’s lives, and that happens through collaboration. With feedback from local schools, early childhood education centers, pediatricians and more, they’re combining advanced research with feedback on what best meets the needs of those who will put the initiative into action.

“Pennington is constantly identifying opportunities and adapting our methods to ensure the community is educated on the many resources we’re developing so they can be properly implemented,” Martin says. “Together, we can change the lives of the children in our state.”