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Southeastern, Pennington Biomedical Form Partnership to Fight Obesity in Children

Released: Monday, June 08, 2015

HAMMOND - A new and unique program in Louisiana will allow college students to receive real-world training in preparation for careers working with children who are struggling with their weight.

Project I-PAL is a partnership between Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond and LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge that will create the first teaching space of its type in Louisiana, where students will receive interactive instruction and learn to conduct assessments as part of their curriculum.

Officials at both institutions said Project I-PAL will create an interactive physical activity lab housed in Southeastern's Family and Consumer Sciences program, which will accommodate digital health technology, exergaming and fitness equipment designed for children and adolescents, with teaching space for faculty and students to work directly with youth and families to help them develop healthier lifestyles. Funded by a Louisiana Board of Regents Undergraduate Enhancement Program grant, Project I-PAL will provide unique opportunities for children to engage in physical activity and to address possible psychosocial issues such as poor self-esteem and body image that may be detrimental to children's overall health and wellness.

Additionally, I-PAL will allow researchers to work with families to study the effects of formal exercise-based activities on weight and other health indicators, according to Holly Kihm, PhD, assistant professor of Family and Consumer Sciences at Southeastern and principal investigator of the I-PAL Project.

According to the journal "Pediatrics," one in two children in Louisiana is considered overweight or obese. It is projected that as many as 24,000 more children in the state may be diagnosed with obesity by 2020, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Adolescent School Health Program. This can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure and a variety of other dangerous medical conditions.

"Our goal is to not only support healthy lifestyles and practices among the children and youth but to also provide hands-on experiences for our university students who may become teachers, nutritionists, physical education instructors or play other roles in working with children," Kihm said. "Before embarking on professional careers, these students need to hone their skills and identify best practices so they are real-world ready to work with children and adolescents who struggle with weight management."

Project I-PAL will house 16  specially outfitted, youth-sized pieces of play and exercise equipment, such as treadmills, spin bikes, ellipticals and a climbing wall, including nine from Pennington Biomedical and seven purchased via grant funds. Southeastern will provide the space for the research by transforming a traditional classroom into a practical teaching space for faculty and students to work with children and families. The classroom will also be outfitted with a video conferencing system to allow researchers at Pennington Biomedical to be involved in teaching and coaching experiences with Southeastern faculty and students.

"Project I-PAL works to ensure that children are able to develop healthy lifestyle patterns early on so they are able to gain weight at a healthy pace and avoid critical health problems related to obesity," said Amanda Staiano, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of the Pediatric Obesity and Health Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical and co-principal investigator on the I-PAL project.

Project I-PAL will draw from university students studying family and consumer sciences, social work, counseling, kinesiology and health studies, exercise science, education, nursing, and communication sciences and disorders.

I-PAL is recruiting students from area elementary schools to participate in the program. Students selected to be part of the project will receive health assessments and exercise lessons from Southeastern and Pennington Biomedical researchers at no cost to them.

For more information, contact Kihm at holly.kihm@southeastern.edu.

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Available online at www.southeastern.edu/news_media/news_releases

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The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. It is a campus of Louisiana State University and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes approximately 80 faculty and more than 25 post-doctoral fellows who comprise a network of 44 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and support personnel, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Pennington Biomedical’s more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 222-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.