August 2017, Healthy Life




LSU’s Pennington Biomedical partners with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation to evaluate stencil games as a way to improve kids’ health.

Hopscotch, four square and alphabet trails—those beloved summertime games that help kids wile away the summer—might one day serve as more than just child’s play. Researchers at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center believe that these well-loved games may hold the key to improving physical fitness for some of Louisiana’s youngest citizens.

Right now, one in two children in Louisiana is overweight or obese, putting them at risk for a host of chronic diseases over their lifetime, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and more. Moreover, many children are not engaging in the one to two hours of daily physical activity that is recommended. Health professionals are looking for creative ways to fight the obesity epidemic in our youth in a way that is sustainable over time. Dr. Maura Kepper, a postdoctoral research fellow at Pennington Biomedical, plans to evaluate whether adding stencils to providethese games to childcare centers will get preschoolers moving during recess.

“Stencils are a lower-cost approach that may encourage exercise for kids in a way that’s fun, while also fostering motor skill development like learning how to jump, hop, and run,” Kepper said. “We want to know exactly what kind of impact the addition of these games has on preschool children’s levels of physical activity, sedentary behavior and fundamental motor skills.”

Kepper plans to evaluate the games by assessing the changes in moderate to vigorous physical activity and sedentary time using an accelerometer, which is an activity monitor that tracks the intensity of physical activity. She and her colleagues will also examine children’s fundamental motor skill competency to see if children become more proficient – which is important for building physical activity habits over the long-term. The project will involve Kepper and her team stenciling games for children who attend a childcare center in East Baton Rouge Parish and then comparing children with the stencils versus children at a childcare center without the games.

The endeavor emerged from a Louisiana partnership funded by the Association of State Public Health Nutritionists which aims to reduce obesity by equipping childcare centers in Louisiana with low-cost ways to improve physical activity in kids. The team includes members from Pennington Biomedical, the Louisiana Department of Health, the Louisiana Department of Education, Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and LSU’s School of Kinesiology.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation is funding the project over the next year through its New Horizons program – a fund that supports innovation in the health and education sectors across Louisiana.

“We know that if we’re going to solve Louisiana’s most persistent health problems, we’ve got to think differently to make progress,” said Michael Tipton, president of the foundation. “This project, which will explore a cost-effective, fun and safe way to play represents the kind of thinking we think can move our state forward.”

Playground equipment can be prohibitively expensive for childcare centers to purchase, whereas stencils may be a low
cost easily-implemented way to get kids moving—this may be particularly important to reach low-income children who are disproportionately impacted by obesity, said Kepper.

“We are optimistic that this research will add a new strategy to the toolbox for childcare centers when it comes to improving children’s health,” said Kepper. “Ultimately, our goal is to help kids in Louisiana and beyond live better, longer lives by establishing good exercise habits and a healthy weight early on in life.”

To learn more about how you can help advance health research in our community by participating in a study at Pennington Biomedical, visit

To learn more about the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, visit

Kepper, Maura 02

Dr. Maura Kepper postdoctoral researcher in the contextual risk factors laboratory. Her research explores how the built and social environments may interact or accumulate to impact health behaviors and outcomes in pediatric populations. She received her PHD in 2016 from LSU Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, LA.

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