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Eight members of Marvell Walking Club stroll on community walking trail. Link to photo information
Members of the Marvell Walking Club take a stroll on their community's recently refurbished walking trail. Click the image for more information about it.

Pilot Program Fosters Fitness in Three Delta Communities

By Jim Core
March 7, 2006

To improve the nutrition and health of residents in three rural communities in the South, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is partnering in a pilot program with six universities, state cooperative extension services and other organizations.

Obesity, heart disease, stroke and cancer disproportionately affect people living in Mississippi Delta states. Researchers working on the Lower Mississippi Delta Nutrition Intervention Research Initiative (NIRI) in Little Rock, Ark., are studying the population's dietary habits, which are generally less healthy than the national average.

As locations for the intervention pilot program, NIRI partners selected Marvell, Ark., and its surrounding public school district; Franklin Parish in Louisiana; and the city of Hollandale, Miss. The community-based participatory research model is being used as the framework for carrying out the Delta NIRI mission, according to Beverly McCabe-Sellers, a nutrition scientist and NIRI's research coordinator.

Fresh produce being unloaded from Franklin parish 'rolling store.' Link to photo information
The "rolling store" operated by Reverend Emanuel Smith (center) has been a big success in Franklin Parish, Louisiana. Shown with him are Marria Fields, peer educator, and Kathy Smith. Click the image for more information about it.

In Marvell, NIRI initiated a walking club so residents can offer each other support. Health professionals are invited to give participants health, nutrition and physical fitness advice. The city also received a grant to create a farmers' market. Last summer, three community gardens were started there to provide residents nutritious fruit and vegetables.

In Franklin Parish, local NIRI coordinators are expanding a weekly truck delivery, or "rolling store," of fresh produce and are distributing healthy recipes to participants. They hope to join forces with a local grocery store to stock fresh produce for residents holding special vouchers.

In Hollandale, an advanced walking club was formed, with community leaders certified as instructors. Local coordinators worked with NIRI to install a walking trail, basketball court and soccer field in a city park.

According to Margaret L. Bogle, a nutritionist and Delta NIRI's executive director, scientists and communities are analyzing the intervention research and determining how to expand these programs into other Delta communities.

Read more about the research in the March issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.