More than half of Louisiana's schoolchildren are classified as overweight or obese, according to a new study released by UL Lafayette's Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning. “We’ve seen over three decades of children gaining weight due to poor eating habits, a decrease in physical activity, and an increase in television and media use," said Dr. Billy R. Stokes, Executive Director of the Picard Center, in a news release. "Turning this trend around will take time, but we’re headed in the right direction by collecting the right data to use for effective interventions.”

The study is based on data gathered last year during physical fitness assessments at schools in St. Martin, Caddo, DeSoto, Natchitoches, Ouachita and Sabine parishes. Of the 14,305 students who were assessed, 47 percent were classified as healthy, 32 percent were classified as obese, 20 percent were classified as overweight and 1 percent were classified as underweight.

The fitness assessments will expand this spring to include more than 20,000 additional students in Lafayette, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana and St. Mary parishes. A state law passed last year called for an expansion of health-related physical fitness assessments. The Picard Center is working in tandem with the state Department of Education, the Department of Health and Hospitals, the Governor's Council of Physical Fitness and Sports and the Louisiana Council on Obesity Prevention and Management in studying the issue and coming up with strategies to address the problem.

The Picard Center also is planning to replicate a study that was recently conducted in Texas that correlates physical fitness assessment results to academic outcomes and behavior incidences.  “This is an opportunity to investigate the relationship between student academic performance and physical fitness on Louisiana students, said Dr. Holly Howat, Project Director for the Fitnessgram Administration at the Picard Center, in the release. "The results of this type of study can directly help principals, school superintendents and school boards as well as state

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