- Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.1, 2
- The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.1, 2
- In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.1
- Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors.3 Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.4
- Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.5,6
Clearly, the trends are alarming and we must act now to reverse them or we will face enormous human and financial costs in a variety of health issues that tend to increase among obese patients. Obese persons face higher rates of developing diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, poor healing, and other challenges. In addition to the health concerns associated with obesity, research has revealed connections between physical activity and academic performance.
We sat down with several key team members from the multifaceted task force whose goal it is to tackle the problem of obesity and caloric imbalance among our youth. Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, MD, serves as the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and State Health Officer. In addition to her numerous duties, she oversees a program put forth by the governor called, “GeorgiaSHAPE“. This program, a public-private partnership, provides research-supported recommendations for Georgia schools to incorporate an additional 30 minutes of physical activity in the course of the day (often within the classroom itself during brief breaks from academic work). See: Pledge to Power Up for 30 The goal is to enroll the roughly 1300 state-wide grade schools into the program to help reduce obesity and improve academic performance. Participating schools receive funds to support the program and also gain access to grants through philanthropic organizations such as the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation.
Along with Dr. Fitzgerald we hosted experts from the Georgia Department of Education, Georgia State University’s Public Health Policy Center, HealthMPowers, the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation, and an educator and student from Carrollton Elementary Schools (one of the early adopters of the program). They shared research findings regarding the value of physical activity as it relates to brain function and, correspondingly, math, reading, and spelling performance among young students. We talked about the fact that currently, only ~1/3rd of Georgia’s schools are enrolled to participate in this important program that has clear, far-reaching benefits to our young people and our collective community health.
“You need to remember that yes, there had been an increase throughout the country [in childhood obesity]. But, Georgia, as far as childhood obesity—we were the second worst state in the entire country,” according to Dr. Fitzgerald. “. . .We now have three years of measurements from looking at Georgia’s children. . .Here are the numbers: 40% of the children in our school systems are not at a healthy weight. . .Here’s the one that scares me. We looked at a variety of things—not just weight. But also, it’s called ‘aerobic capacity’. And we looked at flexibility and we looked at muscle strength. And, the tests are not trying out for the Olympics. It’s not even trying out for the football team. It’s walking a mile and touching your toes. And only 19% of Georgia’s children were able to do all tests. . . So, clearly, this became the governor’s main interest because we knew unhealthy kids, of course, would lead to unhealthy adults.”
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, MD, Commissioner of Georgia Department of Health
Dr. John Bare, PhD, Vice President of Programs, Arthur M. Blank Foundation and Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation
Dr. Emily Vall, PhD, Obesity Project Manager, GeorgiaSHAPE
Diana Keough, CEO/Founder, ShareWIK Media Group
Deborah Kibbie, Georgia State University Public Health Policy Center, Chief Evaluator of GeorgiaSHAPE
Therese McGuire, Health and Physical Education Program Specialist at Georgia Department of Education
Wendy McDowell, Educator, Carrollton County Elementary Schools
Colt Shadrix, 3rd Grade Student, Carrollton Elementary Schools