“First of all, I’m absolutely delighted and the other thing that I am delighted about is that Georgia was one of the states that made the most progress in that age group,” Fitzgerald said. “When we got the report from them — Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, New Jersey and South Carolina and the Virgin Islands were the states [and] territories that had made the biggest change. Georgia was right at the top, so I’m very pleased about that.”
From 2003-2004 to 2011-2012, there was a 43 percent drop or a decrease in obesity prevalence for children 2 to 5 years old from nearly 14 percent to more than 8 percent. Improvements also were seen when comparing data from 2009-2010 to 2011-2012, which featured a decline from more than 12 percent to more than 8 percent.
“We continue to see signs that, for some children in this country, the scales are tipping. This report comes on the heels of previous CDC data that found a significant decline in obesity prevalence among low-income children aged 2 to 4 years participating in federal nutrition programs,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., stated in a news release. “We’ve also seen signs from communities around the country with obesity prevention programs including Anchorage, Alaska, Philadelphia, New York City and King County, Washington. This confirms that at least for kids, we can turn the tide and begin to reverse the obesity epidemic.”
As far as Georgia, Fitzgerald credits initiatives, such as Georgia SHAPE — which evaluates students’ fitness — and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Supplemental Nutrition Program’s promotion of breastfeeding and providing healthy staples to financially struggling mothers with young children, in helping bolster the well-being of the state’s youngsters.
“The WIC program in Georgia, over 50 percent of our children are young children,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a food program up to age 5, which is … right in this age group and the WIC program went through a significant change back in 2009. I personally believe that’s probably one of the reasons that we had a decrease in obesity in that age group. Some specific things that they did is before they only gave fruit juices but now we can use the WIC money to actually buy fruits and vegetables and that’s both in baby food ... and also in fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables for our older children up to age 5.
“The second thing that I think is maybe the most significant is there was a change in the milk availability through the WIC program. Before we just had formula and whole milk and right now the WIC plan has, of course, the formula as needed [and] under age 2 it’s whole milk but [with ages] 2 to 5 — in that age group that we have seen the weight decrease — in those children, we go for less than 2 percent options. And I think that’s an important change that has really [made a big impact] — so more fruits and vegetables and less high fat milk.”
While the CDC’s obesity prevalence rates show improvement in the 2- to 5-year-old age group, they hold steady overall for ages 2 to 19 or adults between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012. With Gov. Nathan Deal’s Georgia SHAPE initiative implemented across the state, Fitzgerald looks to see the obesity rates drop in other age groups as well. Along with helping Georgia hospitals promote breast feeding, the effort also is assisting the state’s Department of Early Care and Learning with developing quality ratings to increase nutritional and fitness programs for preschoolers, she said.
“I really am proud of Georgia and the work we’re doing with the SHAPE program and I am especially grateful to Commissioner Bobby Cagle with the DECAL program,” Fitzgerald said. “... In this report there was no decrease in those school age children, no change in the obesity, and I really think that ... the SHAPE program, especially with the Power Up for 30 that we’re initiating right now, I think two years from now we will see a change in that age group. ... The Power Up for 30 plan is to have 30 minutes [of] increased activity every day, every school, every child in Georgia.”