Category: Obesity Policy

AMA declares obesity a disease


Obesity in the Workplace, Obesity Policy

This week, the American Medical Association labeled obesity a disease, prompting statements from major health organizations, as well as stories and editorials from media.

In a press release, The Obesity Society noted, “The passage of a new American Medical Association policy classifying obesity as a disease reinforces the science behind obesity prevention and treatment.” The LA Times noted, “The AMA’s decision essentially makes diagnosis and treatment of obesity a physician’s professional obligation,” in part because such treatment will now be reimbursable by insurance companies. Just as important, it continued, the AMA’s opinion can influence policy makers who are in a position to do more to support interventions, research, and programs to prevent and treat obesity.

However, the decision was not without controversy. The AMA’s own Council on Science and Public Health of the American Medical Association issued a report expressing concern that obesity was typically diagnosed using body mass index (BMI), a measure that is imprecise and not always associated with poor health outcomes.

UGA nutrition and health specialist Connie Crawley says the AMA decision puts obesity in the same light as other long-term diseases, such as diabetes.  “Diabetes is a long-term condition, just like obesity is, and it is basically is never cured,” Crawley said. “It’s just managed.”  She also noted, “Calling obesity a disease also takes some of the stigma away that it is just a personal flaw in one’s character that causes it—just like drug addition or alcoholism are diseases.”


New public health professor takes on Obesity Policy team


Obesity Initiative at UGA, Obesity Policy

Neale Chumbler, the new department head of healthy policy and management in the College of Public Health, will step up to the plate as the team leader for the Obesity Initiative’s Obesity Policy team.

“We want to take the basic science that some researchers are doing on campus and translate it to practice and policymakers,” he said. “The idea with the initiative is to prevent chronic diseases, and obesity is linked to those.”

Chumbler also looks forward to hiring two professors in his college to join the obesity research and initiative.

“Obesity is a serious public health problem, and I think the initiative is a good fit for a relatively new department,” he said. “I think this is an opportunity for two new people to come and help move a great department to even greater strides.”

— Neale Chumbler hails from Indiana University School of Liberal Arts, where he was chair of the department of sociology, director of the Institute for Research on Social Issues, and a Regenstrief Institute Scientist at the Indiana University Center for Health Services and Outcomes Research. He was also associate director of the Indianapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Obesity is community issue, requires policy changes, UGA professors say


Communication Strategies for Obesity Management, Obesity Policy, Obesity trends

Obesity is now so prevalent that it must be addressed as a social and political responsibility, not just an individual issue, three University of Georgia professors agree.

The professors were part of a panel discussion following a screening of part of HBO’s “Weight of the Nation” at the Tate Theater on Wednesday evening.

The Georgia Public Health Training Center and National Association of Chronic Disease Directors teamed up to present the documentary.

“It’s important not to blame the individual but to work as a community — all the places we live, work, and play — to support each other to find community-drive solutions,” said Marsha Davis, an associate professor of health promotion and behavior. “People in Athens live in food deserts, and we need to continue to assure that people have access and can afford fresh produce.”

Obesity has reached crisis levels, noted Karen Hilyard, an assistant professor of health promotion and behavior with experience in health communication.

“We need a wake-up call. I can’t believe we’re working on any other issue in public health right now because of its wide-reaching impact across all areas,” she said. “This problem fits the definition of a crisis, but why aren’t more people outraged?”

Unlike a natural disaster, obesity and its long-term risks are perceived differently, she explained. But we need to change the way we talk about obesity.

“We need to re-frame the issue from one of personal responsibility to one that’s a community issue. It affects not just our health but our economy, health care costs, and even national security,” Hilyard said. “We can’t expect to survive as a country if we have a crippled workforce that can’t handle physically demanding jobs. Policymakers must consider what obesity means for the future of our country.”

Ultimately, it starts with this generation, added Connie Crawley, a registered dietician and Cooperative Extension associate.

“As a young person in your 20s, you’re probably at your lowest weight for the rest of your life,” she said. “You’re in the prime situation to make decisions now that will influence your future weight and your future family.”

From the American Academy of Pediatrics Prevention Plus recommendations, Crawley listed several goals to reduce obesity in America:

  • Screen time: Remove screens (TV, video games, computers) from bedrooms and reduce viewing time to two hours per day.
  • Sugary drinks: Take them out of your diet! This includes 100% juice, energy drinks, and sports drinks.
  • Physical activity: Some sort of activity 60 minutes per day. It doesn’t have to be all at once or planned exercise.
  • Sleep: Newest on the block of recommendations, sleep helps your metabolism and reduces your chances of making poor decisions about eating and activity when tired. Plus, you’ll eat more and drink caffeine to stay awake.
  • Breakfast: Eat it. It increases your metabolism after fasting while you sleep. For children, however, we must ensure they are not eating breakfast both at home and at school.
  • Eating at home: Do this 5-6 days per week. Fewer Americans have decent cooking skills. But if we can educate children and adults how to make a few healthy, simple meals, it’ll make all the difference.

“Even if families or individuals select one to work on each year, they’d be a different person in six years,” Crawley said. “These key points will seriously impact your long-term health. You are as much at risk as the people in the film.”

The film is available at

UGA budget cuts will reduce Obesity Initiative funding


Obesity Initiative at UGA, Obesity Policy

When budget cuts loom, new initiatives are often the first to take the hit.

From Athens Banner-Herald and Atlanta Journal-Constitution stories, UGA documents recently submitted to state officials show plans to eliminate 130 jobs to cut state budgets by 3 percent. The 3 percent cuts add up to about $11 million.

Most of the job cuts will fall in UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), which will eliminate 70 jobs, most of them in the Cooperative Extension service or at the university’s network of agricultural experiment stations.


But also for the Obesity Initiative —

From ABH:

Reduce start-up funding for new faculty to be hired in molecular medicine and the UGA Obesity Initiative by $1.5 million. The money is used for such purposes as buying new lab equipment.

UGA groups discuss fighting obesity on campus


Obesity Initiative at UGA, Obesity Policy, University of Georgia

Several University of Georgia groups met to discuss their current work with health and wellness matters on campus.

After each team presented, the committee agreed to form a new team under UGA’s Obesity Initiative, created earlier this year to address adult and childhood obesity in Georgia.

Those who presented:

  • Megan Ford, Aspire Clinic: Provides multiple areas of counseling, looking at obesity and health from a holistic perspective, particularly through nutrition education and counseling. Aspire acknowledges that “problems don’t exist in a vacuum,” and services are provided in an integrated and interdisciplinary approach.
  • Kathrine Ingerson, Food Services: Conducts wellness for dining halls on campus, including personalized menu guidance and the Eating Smart class. She also creates wellness brochures for the dining halls and weekly table tents. As part of the new Food Services website, students can track nutrition facts.
  • Liz Rachun, University Health Center: Employs “Healthy Dawg” campaign to tell students about the physical, intellectual, emotional, environmental, social, and spiritual ways to balance their lives. Healthy Dawg Ambassadors help to promote health center services, and Healthy Dawg workshops give students various ways to learn about health on campus.
  • Lori Duke, College of Pharmacy: Second and third-year pharmacy students earn practicum hours in Healthy Fit and Healthy Dawg programs, in which they treat patients with multiple health and medication needs. The goal is to expand services to UGA employees because “there are complex patients, and some people have serious health challenges on campus.”
  • Ellen Evans, College of Education: As part of a new service-learning initiative, the Dawgs WORK (Worksite Obesity Reduction Know-how) wants to tackle employee health on campus through personalized and sustainable practices. A focus group is starting this fall to launch the idea.
  • David Knauff, School Garden Resource Coordination: As part of a brand new idea, Knauff wants to connect resources around Athens to help with community garden programs. Oftentimes, teachers want to start a program but don’t have the support or Georgia Performance Standards to integrate it into the classroom regularly.
  • Mark Wilson, Workplace Health Group: Part of a long-standing conversation, Wilson wants to help incorporate an employee wellness program at UGA that would incorporate all faculty and staff in a University-wide model. Though the idea needs system-wide support at the Board of Regents level, Wilson is still looking for ways to showcase how the program can significantly reduce health costs for UGA.




Georgia ranks No. 24 in state obesity


Obesity Initiative at UGA, Obesity Policy

At least 1 in 5 people is obese in every U.S. state, the CDC reported, and Georgia falls near the middle in obesity rankings.

Georgia ranks No. 24 in a new report that says more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7 percent) are obese, or 30 pounds over a healthy weight. The report, based on 2011 state obesity data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows Georgia’s rate at 28 percent.

Mississippi has the highest obesity rate with 34.9 percent, and Colorado hits the bottom of the list at 20.7 percent.

In the annual study, participants self-report their height and weight in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey. Compared to 2010 numbers, Georgia dropped from 29 percent.

However, the survey changed from last year, now including people who only use cell phones and a new weighting process. CDC officials say that due to the changes, 2011 obesity numbers can’t be compared to previous years. the 2011 data will become the new baseline for future obesity rankings.

No state fell below 20 percent adult obesity, and 12 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia) came in at 30 percent or more. The South had the highest prevalence of adult obesity (29.5 percent), followed by the Midwest (29 percent), the Northeast (25.3 percent) and the West (24.3 percent).


Check the CDC data for more information.



Start with childhood obesity, says Georgia public health commissioner


Maternal & Childhood Obesity, Obesity Initiative at UGA, Obesity Policy

Dr Brenda FitzgeraldGeorgia 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.


Georgia launches initiative to combat obesity


Obesity Initiative at UGA, Obesity Policy

In an effort to better connect the many resources around the state working to combat obesity in Georgia, Governor Nathan deal this month launched Georgia SHAPE, a statewide program promoting exercise and better nutritional options.

The new program merges efforts from governmental, philanthropic and academic and business communities.

“This affects all of us,” Deal said. “We must work together to improve the health of children in our state. Some suggest that we’re raising the first generation of American kids to have shorter life expectancy then their parents because of problems related to obesity. We can and will do better to promote healthy lifestyles.”

The initiative’s website includes a SHAPE program locator, where visitors can find fitness programs and farmers’ markets by ZIP code.  It also includes resources for students, families and schools. Additional strategies to combat childhood obesity are planned and include promoting breastfeeding, increasing physical activity and providing better nutritional options for students.