The “desperate fight against obesity” begins today, declares Dare to be Health program coordinator
By Tina Dirmann
BCBSLA Foundation staff writer
We at BCBSLAF are proud to congratulate one of our partners in the Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant program, Dare to be Healthy, on their successful kick off event, held in Lake Charles earlier this week. Their bold wellness project will offer a wide variety of new health-oriented services for the residents of Calcasieu Parish, including:
- Nearly 1.2 miles of new biking and walking trails
- New community gardens
- Annual health fairs offering 1,000 screenings to detect diabetes
- Expanded fresh produce and healthy food options in community grocery stores
- Fitness and nutrition classes, benefitting 500 adult residents.
Look for further stories on our site in the coming months highlighting the exciting individual projects launched under the Dare to be Healthy umbrella, like the K.I.S.S. Project (Keep It Simple Sister — a weight loss program for women) and Get Your Kitchen in Shape (a nutritionist guided program teaching individual families how to cook healthier meals at home – especially the local Louisiana cuisine we all love so much)!
During Wednesday’s launch, K.I.S.S. project leader Sharmita Rideau spoke to the group of community organizers and health leaders gathered before her at the Christus St. Patrick Hospital Garber Auditorium. She took a moment to introduce the first crop of ladies she’s assisting in a new weight loss journey. And then, as she thanked the financial donors who made this day possible, her emotions got the best of her.
Sharmita Rideau, surrounded by her K.I.S.S. challenge participants, reports her ladies have lost a combined total of 65 pounds in just 2 weeks. Their motto during tough workout sessions? “Sweat like a pig, look like a fox!”
“Because,” she explained later, still teary-eyed, voice cracking, “I understand these women and what they are going through. I’ve been that woman. That wife. That mother. Trying to run a family and battle fluctuating weight. I know this struggle and I really want to help them complete this journey. And I’m so grateful to everyone who made this happen.”
Department of Health and Hospitals Region 5 Medical Director Dr. Bertrand Foch was largely credited for leading the charge for change and encouraging local partners to band together to fight what he saw as an alarming obesity rate in the community he serves. Among Lake Charles residents, an estimated 38% of the population is considered obese – higher than Louisiana’s already startling 35% number, according to the Center for Disease Control, which ranks the obesity rate national average as 28%.
“I firmly believe the single biggest thing we can do to prevent premature death is through healthy eating,” said Foch, noting that health problems stemming from obesity costs the country $150 billion annually. “And we need to start learning how, as parents, to pass on lessons to our children on how to lead a long and healthy life.”
Eventually, the Dare to be Healthy program was born, made possible through a $760,000 grant from BCBSLAF’s Challenge Grant and an additional $1.27 million in matching funds from collaborating organizations in the Southwest Louisiana Area (including the region’s 4 main hospitals, the Calcasieu Parish School Board, City of Lake Charles, Office of Public Health, Calcasieu Parish Police Jury and McNeese State University Nutrition & Science Department).
Janice Ackley, program director for Dare to be Healthy, declares war on obesity at the program’s kick off event.
“This is a fight,” said Janice Ackley, Dare to be Healthy program coordinator. “A desperate fight against obesity, which has become an epidemic in our state.”
And there’s no easy way out this time. Accountability is key, program leaders insist. As such, every event attendee filled out surveys about their own fitness and nutrition habits. BCBSLAF and Challenge Grant partner Pennington Biomedical Center will collect several such surveys in the months to come to help measure behavioral changes in the community over time.
Dare to be Health and 11 other Challenge Grant sponsored programs are expected to impact more than 1.7 million Louisiana residents and unfold over a 3-year period (2013-2015).