Georgia Shape: Working toward a Healthier Future for Georgia’s Children
By Debra Kibbe, Senior Research Associate
Almost two-thirds of Georgia adults are categorized as overweight or obese. Among Georgia’s children, 13.4 percent of 2 to 4-year-olds are obese and more than one in three school-age students are overweight or obese.
Why should employers and community organizations care about these numbers? First, the responsibility for managing obesity among the working population has fallen to employers. Second, no other health condition affects so many children and youth. Estimates suggest more than half of children who are heavy at a young age will become obese adults.
These individuals are our future workforce.
Obese adults have medical costs $1,429 higher than healthy-weight adults in part due to the many chronic health conditions exacerbated by carrying excess weight, such as diabetes, sleep apnea and heart disease. A new study on the impact of obesity in the workplace calls for employers to expand insurance benefits for obesity treatment, including coverage for a registered dietician, medical weight management, bariatric surgery and treatment with medicines.
Other efforts, particularly in Georgia, are focusing on policies, system changes and environmental improvements that influence healthy food access and opportunities for physical activity in children in an effort to prevent childhood obesity and produce a healthier workforce for the state.
Prompted by Georgia’s rates of obesity that were among the highest in the nation, in the early 2000s policymakers and public health partners in Georgia implemented a series of initiatives focused on the prevention and control of childhood overweight and obesity. These activities are coordinated under the Georgia Shape initiative, established in 2012 by Gov. Nathan Deal. A number of these strategies have resulted in declining obesity rates among Georgia’s children, including:
- Partnering to maximize impact: Georgia Shape is governed by a 13-member Governor’s Advisory Council on Childhood Obesity. Partner organizations participate in five expert subgroups (data and evaluation, nutrition, physical activity, healthcare, and marketing and communications) that report to the council and implement specific initiatives. With facilitation and organizational support from the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Governor’s Office, Georgia Shape partners work through a collective impact framework to achieve the goal of a greater levels of fitness and health and a decreased rate of obesity among the state’s children.
- Using the data: Since 2011, fitness, height and weight data have been collected by school districts for about one million students annually. During the 2011-12 academic year, the first school year of implementation, results showed 58 percent of the state’s student population were at a healthy weight. In 2013, data were used to create a state map highlighting weight prevalence by county. These maps were disseminated to legislators, school administrators and county leaders across Georgia. By 2016-17, the number of students in a healthy weight range had improved to 61 percent.
- Supporting targeted interventions: Layering a number of evidence-informed strategies, some statewide and others geographically targeted, have been critical to Shape’s success. Projects and programs have been implemented in early care and education environments (targeting students 2 to 5 years old), schools, afterschool providers, birthing hospitals, children’s hospitals and pediatrician’s offices, health clinics, communities, faith settings, universities and worksites. One statewide initiative, Power Up for 30, integrated 30 minutes of physical activity before, during and after school and affected almost 70 percent of elementary schools. Those areas of the state with the highest obesity prevalence rates received targeted intervention, support and capacity building.
Obesity and overweight affect more of Georgia’s children than any other health condition. Employers have the opportunity to partner with Georgia Shape now so their future workforce is healthy and productive.
Debra Kibbe is a senior research associate at the Georgia Health Policy Center in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University and a co-chair for the Data and Evaluation Subgroup of Georgia Shape.