Augusta University, in collaboration with the Augusta Mayor’s Office, the Georgia Cancer Center, the Department of Pediatrics, Medical College of Georgia and the Augusta Partnership for Children, has been awarded a $120,000 grant to fight childhood obesity in the Augusta area. The presentation of the award occurred Jan. 23 in Washington, D.C., at the 88th Winter Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors sponsors the award in collaboration with the American Beverage Foundation for a Healthy America. One award of this amount was given to a medium-size city, which Augusta qualifies for based on its population. One award was also given to one large and one small city based on their respective populations.
Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. was a key impetus of the grant being formulated and submitted by Dr. Martha S. Tingen and her team.
“The mayor reached out to me and shared this opportunity and asked that we prepare an application for our city on the challenging public health crisis of childhood obesity,” said Tingen, associate director for cancer prevention, control and population health and the Charles W. Linder, MD Endowed Chair in Pediatrics.
With only three weeks before the due date remaining, Tingen and her team met immediately, brainstormed the best options for impacting childhood obesity, developed a plan, and prepared and submitted the application. Marlo M. Vernon, MPH, PhD, and assistant professor of medicine at the Georgia Cancer Center, was an important co-investigator in this effort. Vernon has particular expertise in addressing obesity by working with families.
“We were thrilled when notified our application had been selected,” said Tingen, also a professor of medicine at the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia.
The United States faces an obesity epidemic with more than one-third of adults obese (39.6%) and 18.5% or 13.7 million children and adolescents ages 2-19 obese.
“Early development of obesity in childhood is a statistically significant risk factor for future obesity in adulthood,” particularly for severely obese children, as reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Obesity is a growing problem, and a very important factor in relation to cancer prevention and many other illnesses that can be prevented,” said Tingen. These conditions related to obesity also include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, sleep problems/sleep apnea, breathing problems, metabolic syndrome, and psychological distress and poor self-esteem among children and adults.
In 2017, Georgia was ranked 24th in the nation for adult obesity (31.6%) and had the 8th highest obesity rate among youth ages 10-17, according to the State of Obesity report.
The program, called Augusta’s Fit Families, will focus on disparities in the community and recruit 75 families in the area to take part. “We want kids to learn and grow up to be healthy,” Tingen said.
This program will target families of young children at daycare centers and faith-based communities that offer daily childcare options. The program will provide a multi-pronged family-based approach to offer interactive food tasting and cooperative meal planning; exposure to new foods and the beneficial experience of consuming colorful, healthy foods; and knowledge on how to incorporate physical activity as a family.
Families will be given access to community centers to exercise and be taught how to prepare food in a healthy way, along with cooking sessions and assistance from dieticians and nutritionists. Pediatricians will also assist with study implementation by sharing with families the importance of preventing obesity and addressing obesity in those families currently affected.
As part of this project, families will be encouraged to evaluate their neighborhoods for the quality of the sidewalks, street lights and additional barriers to exercise. This proposal, in collaboration with Augusta’s mayor, will then seek to improve the areas of concern noted by the families, thus bridging the family, community and local government domains.
The program’s impact on family physical activity will be measured by the number of families who achieve the goal of family physical activity at least one time a week and a three-day physical activity recall of parents and their children. The impact of healthy eating habits will be assessed based on a food frequency questionnaire completed by parents for themselves and their children, with the input of the care providers. Height, weight and waist circumference will be measured on the parents and children.
A final Family Day celebration, in conjunction with “Children’s Week!” hosted bi-annually by the Augusta Partnership for Children, will celebrate the accomplishments of the children and their families and promote healthy eating and activity.
Augusta’s Fit Families will begin in February of this year.