Georgia ranks second in the nation for childhood obesity at 21.3 percent and third in the nation for children who are overweight or obese at 37.3 percent, said Barbara Fitzgerald, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health and State Health Officer.
Fitzgerald visited the University of Georgia on July 31 to give an update on adult and child obesity in Georgia, and current local and state initiatives to address the epidemic.
The key is to focus on children in the schools, she said, describing the Georgia SHAPE program, which pulls in several of the state’s departments, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the Atlanta Brace Foundation, and the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation.
Georgia SHAPE measures students through FITNESSGRAM, a tool that evaluates five different parts of health-related fitness — aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition. Parents and schools receive reports about individual, school, and state-level data to highlight areas of improvement.
Under a new initiative patterned after a program at Sope Creek Elementary in Marietta, students could participate in additional physical activity throughout the day.
The regular academic schedule is maintained and classroom time is not reduced, but students partake in 20-minute exercises in the morning as they arrive to school.
The big perk is the low cost of physical activity, Fitzgerald noted.
Fitzgerald supports regulations that provide 30 minutes of daily physical activity for every student, which schools could implement through structured recess, “Brain Breaks,” or curriculum-based physical activities.
She also discussed regulations that require physical education in the middle school setting, and the state will have more concrete data about Georgia’s 400 middle schools and their physical education programs after the first year of fitness testing is complete.
In addition, Fitzgerald plans to encourage schools to engage in join-use agreements with communities to open school grounds on weekends for afterschool play. These are especially important in low-income, inner-city and rural settings that may lack other recreation facilities, she noted.
- Fitzgerald, a board-certified Obstetrician-Gynecologist and a Fellow in Anti-Aging Medicine, has practiced medicine for three decades. As Commissioner, Dr. Fitzgerald oversees various state public health programs including Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Maternal and Child Health, Infectious Disease and Immunization, Environmental Health, Epidemiology, Emergency Preparedness and Response, Emergency Medical Services, Pharmacy, Nursing, Volunteer Health Care, the Office of Health Equity, Vital Records and the State Public Health Laboratory. Dr. Fitzgerald also directs the state’s 18 public health districts and 159 county health departments. Prior to joining DPH, Dr. Fitzgerald held numerous leadership positions.