Quinlan wanted to get to the root of the problem. He and his team decided obesity, which often leads to hypertension and diabetes, was a lifestyle issue, and the habits were formed in childhood. A look at the stats confirmed it. At 35.9%, Louisiana has the seventh highest rate of overweight youth in the nation. And the number of children ages 2–19 given a primary or secondary diagnosis of obesity nearly doubled from 1999 to 2005.
"This is an epidemic," says Quinlan. "To reduce chronic disease in our community, we decided to change the behavior of our children and their families."
The system puts $250,000 in annual direct costs toward creating its school-based program designed to educate children and their families about the long-term impact of nutrition and exercise choices on their health. The money funds onsite nurse practitioners at schools and a mobile fitness unit that travels the region to teach parents and kids to incorporate healthier foods and behaviors into their lifestyle. The mobile fitness unit reached more than 2,500 students this year.
"We needed to work with the whole family, because when these kids get home they don't have control of the menu. We could help the school offer better food choices, but we needed to get the family involved if we were going to make a total change," says Quinlan