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The St. Tammany Parish Hospital Parenting Center is offering two free services for new parents every Monday. At 10:45 a.m., the New Baby Support Group provides an opportunity for professionals and parents of newborns to discuss child development and parenting tips with other parents.

Immediately following, at 11:30 a.m., the Breastfeeding Support Group provides a certified lactation consultant to answer questions relating to breastfeeding newborns. A short educational topic will be addressed monthly. Expectant moms are encouraged to attend as well.

Both classes are free and open to the public. To register or for more information call the St. Tammany Parish Hospital Parenting Center (985-898-4435) or visit www.stph.org and click on "Hospital Events."

The St. Tammany Parish Hospital Community Wellness Center (CWC) has announced that it will provide free counseling space to Louisiana Spirit, a Volunteers of America program, for post-Katrina counseling. The counseling is free by appointment to anyone affected by Hurricane Katrina, and the CWC staff provides VOA flyers to their patients to help spread the word about this free resource. Anyone in need of counseling should call (877) 674-0488 to schedule an appointment.

The Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC) recently celebrated the opening of its new Wellness Center (450 S. Claiborne Ave., 568-3700). The 18,000-square-foot facility located in St. Stanislaus Hall on the LSUHSC campus is a hands-on teaching environment where LSUHSC students, faculty and staff can learn about — and practice — healthy lifestyle choices.

The Center currently houses fitness equipment — cardiovascular machines, weight equipment, Pilates, plate-loaded free weights — and a multi-purpose room. Future plans include expanding educational and fitness evaluation programs as well as wellness research.

Part of the Wellness Center's mission is to teach the role of proper nutrition and physical activity in the prevention of disease. Obesity is one of the most pressing health problems in Louisiana today. The latest America's Health Ranking Survey of the United Health Foundation reports that 30.8 percent of Louisiana residents are obese.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center recently announced the launch of the Louisiana 2 Step, a statewide public health campaign using advertising and public relations messages to encourage Louisiana residents to take two small daily steps toward better health: eat right and move more.

The state's largest health insurer and the Baton Rouge-based research center have joined forces to fight obesity, one of the leading causes of preventable illness in the state. (Being overweight and/or obese substantially increases the risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis and various cancers.)

Both companies have strong stakes in this battle: the Pennington Center's research programs focus on nutrition and its relationship to areas including obesity and chronic diseases. Blue Cross insures one out of every four Louisianans. Obesity-related diseases account for nearly half of Louisiana's health-care budget.

Look for television and radio advertisements, print ads, outdoor billboards and the Web site www.Louisiana2Step.com, all encouraging every citizen to "Do the 2" in his or her own way.

The campaign's message is that small lifestyle changes can make a difference in a person's health. For example, eating five or more servings of fruits or vegetables per day can help prevent heart disease, cancer and other chronic conditions.


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