July 28, 2014  

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New Project Targets Healthy Eating in Mississippi Delta

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Motivated to change nutrition behaviors in rural communities in Mississippi, members of the Nutrition and Food Systems department at The University of Southern Mississippi have undertaken an ambitious research project titled, “Mississippi Communities for Healthy Living.”

The four-year project is funded through a $2 million cooperative agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service. The Nutrition and Food Systems department at Southern Miss will be offering a nutrition education program for women’s social and civic groups in Leflore, Washington, Grenada, Pike, Copiah and Lincoln counties in Mississippi.

“Mississippi has one of the highest obesity rates in the nation and that is particularly true in rural communities,” said Holly Federico, the project manager and instructor in Nutrition and Food Systems at Southern Miss. “One of the primary goals is to help people make dietary changes that can be maintained long-term. This project can definitely teach them the skills necessary to make such life-changing decisions.”

In its annual rankings for 2009, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health listed Mississippi first in obesity across the country with 32.5 percent. In addition, 44.4 percent of Mississippi children ages 10-17 are classified as overweight or obese, the study concluded.

An intense recruiting campaign has been waged over the past several months in an effort to get women’s social, civic and church groups, as well as other organizations, involved with the project. LaShaundrea Crook, research dietitian at Southern Miss, noted that people involved in these organizations can serve as role models and leaders within their families and peer groups.

“If we can get these women on board for a project this extensive and establish a presence in that area, then it will show others that we’re not only committed to this effort but also to turning around the lives of many people in the Delta,” said Crook.

Although still in the planning phase, components of the nutrition program will include the following:

• Six education sessions including hands-on learning activities, cooking demonstration with tasting opportunities, interactive games, recipe sharing and potlucks
• Mailed newsletters and telephone contacts that provide information on healthy eating and encouragement to succeed
• Assessment of blood pressure, body mass index and food intake at the beginning, middle and end of the nutrition program.

Project director Dr. Carol Connell, associate professor in Nutrition & Food Systems at Southern Miss, said the plan calls for between 350-400 women to participate in the program which also features the subtitle, “Healthy Living Southern Style.” Enrollment is scheduled to continue through June of next year.

“Projects such as this are extremely important, especially when you consider the fact that this state has traditionally had the poorest health in the nation,” said Connell. “We’ve got to identify and address the poor nutritional habits of people in this region and hopefully guide them toward a better quality of life.”

For more information about “Mississippi Communities for Healthy Living,” contact Federico at 601-266-6023 or Connell at 601-266-6341or visit www.usm.edu/nfs/research/delta_niri_overview.html. If you are part of a women’s group or organization and would like to participate in the program, contact Crook at 601-266-4260.