(This article was published in “The Louisiana Weekly” in the March 7, 2011 edition.)
If Saturdays find you in an easy chair with a magazine–weary from the workweek–when you should be outside weeding the garden, you’re not alone. New Orleans residents are less physically active in their leisure time than Americans in the West and parts of the North and Northeast, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in mid February.
The CDC found that American adults were inactive for anywhere between 10.1% and 43% of their free time in 2008. Counties in the southern U.S. and parts of Appalachia were the most inert, while those in the West and the Rockies were peppiest.
Along with Louisiana, residents of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee were least likely to exert themselves in their down time.
In Louisiana’s Orleans Parish, 28.1% of adults were physically inactive during their leisure time in 2008, the CDC found. Jefferson Parish was slightly lazier at 29%, with Plaquemines at 33% and St. Bernard at 34.4%. In the River Parishes, inactivity rates were 27.9% in St. Charles, 31.8% in St. James and 33.5% in St. John the Baptist. St. Tammany residents were comparatively energized, with an inactivity rate of 24.4%–the lowest in the state.
The CDC used data from state-based telephone surveys of adults and 2007 census information to make its estimates. Participants were asked if they engaged in any physical activities–like walking, gardening, running and golfing–outside of their jobs. Catching Mardi Gras beads and tending to the outdoor grill weren’t included in activities.
But does it really matter if you spent last Sunday afternoon categorizing your parade catches on the living room floor instead of tossing a ball in the park? It does if being inert has become a pattern because in that case you might suffer health consequences, according to researchers. The CDC said physical activity can help control weight; reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers; strengthen bones and muscles and improve mental health.
Pam Butler, manager at Touro Diabetes Center in New Orleans, said last week that being active and maintaining a healthy weight are keys to preventing diabetes. “Diabetes is part of a cluster of diseases, including obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol,” she noted. Since twice as many people have pre-diabetes as diabetes, prevention efforts are critical. Touro’s center focuses on diabetes education.
“We have the advantage of good weather year round here but our rates of diabetes are well above those of most northern states that are snowed in part of the year,” Butler said “Our rural areas, where people don’t have to worry about traffic and could be out walking and riding bikes, are doing poorly.”
“Greater New Orleans does poorly as well,” Butler said. “One factor is that New Orleans is a predominantly African American city, and African Americans are a high-risk group for developing diabetes.” According to the CDC, 18.7% of non-Hispanic blacks aged 20 years or older nationally suffer from undiagnosed or diagnosed diabetes, versus 10.2% of non-Hispanic white adults.
Other factors that aren’t helping the Crescent City are driving short distances instead of walking, downing fried food with soft drinks and frequenting fast food-joints. Kids are holed up indoors, staring at screens.
“The consequences of inactivity in our youth are sobering,” Butler said. In 2010, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge released a report card giving Louisiana’s children a health grade of “D,” unchanged from the two previous years.
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