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University System Works to Prevent Childhood Obesity in Georgia

Atlanta — October 13, 2010

The projected increase in obesity levels in Georgia will rise from $2.5 billion in direct healthcare costs today to $11 billion annually by 2018 unless steps are taken to reduce the state’s growing obesity rates as noted in a recent Emory University study. To put this figure in perspective, the entire University System of Georgia’s (USG) annual economic impact on the state is $12.7 billion.

“Childhood obesity rates have tripled in three decades and the life expectancy for children is expected to be less than for their parents,” said Dr. Marsha Davis. “The economic implications of these rising rates are enormous. Relative to other states, the costs associated with rising obesity levels puts Georgia at an economic disadvantage.”

To address the rising obesity levels and their associated costs, the USG launched this past June a research initiative to provide new tools for individuals, communities, organizations and healthcare providers to help address rising obesity rates. Today was the Board of Regents first look at the potential targets of the initiative, as reported by Dr. Marsha Davis of the University of Georgia (UGA), Dr. Catherine Davis of the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) and Dr. Rodney Lyn of Georgia State University (GSU).

The reports focused on three different strategies to tackle the rising levels of childhood obesity in Georgia: a community based approach, physical activity and a systems and policy approach, respectively.

This initiative supports goal three of the board’s Strategic Plan, to increase the USG’s participation in research and economic development to the benefit of a global Georgia.

“The University System’s obesity research initiative will not only draw upon the knowledge within the System, but help foster collaborative efforts with other higher education entities and private partners to combat childhood obesity in Georgia,” said Executive Vice Chancellor Susan Herbst, who is the chief academic officer for the USG.

In the presentation by Marsha Davis, she highlighted one example of a current effort. Community-Based Childhood Obesity Prevention through Archway Partnership combats childhood obesity by going into the places that have a strong influence on their ability to eat healthy and be active, such as where they live, study and play, Marsha Davis said.

Also, multiple community sectors can join together to promote healthy environments for children ¬– thus, a community based approach, Marsha Davis noted. By including childhood obesity prevention in after-school programs, changes can be made through physical activity, dietary changes, family involvement and community engagement.

In the presentation by Catherine Davis, she highlighted how exercise helps overweight children’s heath and thinking, and even do better in math. Studies suggest that youth should get at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity daily. The PLAY Project studied whether aerobic exercise without dietary restriction reduce diabetes rick in overweight or obese children.

During an after-school program children were given aerobic exercise program studying the affects of zero versus 20 minutes versus 40 minutes of exercise. Students participated in running games, jumping rope, ball games and other vigorous aerobic exercises. Students received incentives for adherence in the form of points for homeroom, prizes and report cards.

“I hope these findings will help reestablish physical activity’s important place in the schools in helping kids stay physically well and mentally sharp,” Catherine Davis said. “For children to reach their potential, they need to be active.”

Lyn’s presentation highlighted Policy Leadership for Active Youth (PLAY). PLAY, a policy research initiative to identify evidence-based strategies to increase physical activities, decrease sedentary behavior and prevent childhood obesity, focuses on stakeholder engagement and policy development and has been active at Georgia State University, University of Georgia and Medical College of Georgia since 2004.

The PLAY Leadership Council is a statewide council consists leaders from education groups/schools, government agencies, healthcare groups, recreation/leisure/extension groups, public health associations and agencies, and statewide associations and foundations. PLAY conducts program evaluations of Georgia programs, which are currently small-scale, fragmented and lacking evaluation. PLAY faculty are also contributing to the evaluation of the implementation of House Bill 229, the Shape Act of 2009, which requires fitness testing in grades K-12.

Other USG efforts include USG-funded research on childhood obesity – an outcome of a Nov. 2009 childhood obesity conference hosted by the USG’s Office of Academic Affairs, which drew together experts and began the discussion, education and examination of childhood obesity.

The goals of the conference were to share current initiatives in these fields being conducted to ameliorate the problem of childhood obesity in the country and the state; to educate participants about funding opportunities for such initiatives; and, to facilitate inter-institutional collaborations among engaged parties statewide, with emphasis on the development of initiatives with outcomes evaluations.

The conference’s objectives were set to specifically align with the state’s 10-year Nutrition and Physical Activity Plan, 1995-2015.

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