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Getting into SHAPE


Georgia has the unfortunate distinction of ranking second in the nation for childhood obesity, but folks in the Peach State aren’t sitting idle. As part of efforts to reduce obesity, Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia Department of Public Health recently launched Georgia SHAPE, a collaborative state-wide effort to reduce childhood obesity by getting children eating better and moving more. We chatted with Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the department’s Division of Public Health, to learn more about how Georgia is getting into SHAPE.

Georgia has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the nation. But the state also is considered among the most active in terms of the government, business and even athletic teams working to tackle the epidemic. What strides have been made thus far — and how will Georgia SHAPE play a role going forward?

Georgia SHAPE honors the state’s commitment to personal responsibility by focusing on creating opportunities for communities, schools, physicians and families to take greater control of their futures. One of the most important aspects of the initiative is, a resource for families that includes healthy recipes, easy exercises and Fitness at Your Fingertips, an ever-evolving directory featuring fitness and nutrition opportunities based on zip code.

Additional strategies include promoting breastfeeding, increasing physical activity and providing better nutritional options for students. One of the most effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant, including reducing the child’s risk for becoming overweight or obese, is to breastfeed. Sharing these research-backed statistics with Georgia businesses may increase the number of employers that adopt policies that support breastfeeding mothers.

Georgia will also implement a voluntary program to recognize birthing hospitals that have taken steps to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding in their organization. The state-level program creates step by step achievable goals and technical assistance to support program implementation and rewards participating hospitals for incremental progress. The Governor’s Healthy School Award recognition program will honor schools/districts achieving specified nutrition and physical education/activity standards.

The FITNESSGRAM is the main part of SHAPE. What is the FITNESSGRAM? Why is it so vital to the program?

The FITNESSGRAM is the battery of fitness tests given to students in grades one to 12 enrolled in Georgia public school physical education classes taught by certified physical education teachers. It evaluates five different parts of health-related fitness, including aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition using objective criteria. FITNESSGRAM helps us understand the fitness level of every student. Results are delivered confidentially to families and aggregate results are reported to create a snapshot and highlight areas for improvement.

How hard is it to bring physical fitness back to schools? I recently heard a statistic that just 2 percent of schools nationwide offer regular PE classes, so I imagine it’s a challenge!

Georgia is working hard to ensure fitness is part of our schools. The SHAPE initiative supports regulations that provide 30 minutes of daily physical activity for every student at school. Including physical activity during the school day, we find, is easier than including actual physical education classes. Research shows that physical activity and fitness is directly tied to improved cognitive function and academic performance.

One of the neat things about the program is that the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Falcons are playing a big role. What exactly will they be bringing to the program? Why is that so important?

We’re delighted to stand with each of our important partners and we look forward to cultivating additional partners and resources to address childhood obesity in Georgia. Reversing Georgia’s alarming childhood obesity statistics and arriving at a sustainable, sensible, healthier Georgia will require input and resources from all Georgians. The Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Falcons are widely recognized community leaders leading by example when it comes to fitness, so they were obvious choices in our fight to end childhood obesity in Georgia.

SHAPE emphasizes physical fitness in schools, but what about school food?

The Governor’s Healthy School Award recognition program will honor schools/districts achieving specified nutrition and physical education/activity standards. A mini-grant program is also included to provide resources for schools to implement innovative/evidence-based nutrition and physical activity programs as part of achieving standards set by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program or the USDA’s Healthier U.S. School Challenge. These, in combination with other strategies such as Farm to School programs and joint use agreements that allow for the use of school facilities for physical activity after school hours will help provide healthier schools in Georgia.

I know it’s early in the program, but do you think SHAPE is something that other states can implement?

Yes. Anyone can implement the SHAPE initiative. SHAPE’s foundation of partnerships is essential.

Don't miss the rest of the Inside Track! Learn how the Bipartisan Policy Center is helping bring Americans together to fight obesity. Click here to find out how you or a colleague could win $40,000 for being a leader in promoting health. Plus, one Leader shares how she's helping kids get heart healthy.