They are the next generation. Children who will become doctors, nurses, teachers, civic leaders and community influencers. While they have a long life ahead of them, now is the time for them to learn skills and habits that can ensure their life will be filled with healthy choices. They’re the reason the Georgia Cancer Center, Children’s Hospital of Georgia and Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis are joining forces to create the Augusta Fit Families program.
“The Georgia Cancer Center’s Cancer Prevention, Control and Population Health (CPCPH) program’s mission is to look at steps families and individuals can take to prevent cancer before a diagnosis,” said Dr. Martha Tingen, associate director for the program. “By promoting healthy lifestyle choices, facilitating experiential learning that equips and promotes community members to make the best health choices, childhood obesity can be prevented and decreased among those already affected.”
The Augusta Fit Families program was created after the partners received a grant from the United States Conference of Mayors. It will allow Tingen, along with Dr. Marlo Vernon, an assistant professor and member of the CPCPH program, to work with the Medical College of Georgia’s Department of Pediatrics and the Augusta Mayor’s Office to enroll in the program 75 families, with children from birth to 5 years old. The families will be recruited by reaching out to organizations offering child care for children, including private daycares and community churches, to connect with those families. Once they are enrolled in the Augusta Fit Families program, team members will work with them on building healthy meal plans and ways to be active in their neighborhood to increase their physical activity level.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), research through the years has linked obesity to 13 different cancers, including liver cancer, kidney cancer and colorectal cancer. Statistics from the NCI show the percentage of children and adolescents who are overweight or obese has also increased during the timeframe of 1988 through 2014. Between 2011 and 2014, an estimated 9% of 2- to 5-year-olds, 17% of 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20% of 12- to 19-year-olds were overweight or obese. From 1988 to 1994, those figures were only 7%, 11%, and 10%, respectively. NCI reports also show the rates of obesity are worse for African Americans and Hispanics versus Caucasians.
“In order to impact the rates of childhood obesity, addressing the family and social environment of young children is often the most significant and the best starting point for intervention,” Vernon said. “This proposal builds upon three needs identified by the Augusta community to include impacting obesity, addressing food deserts, and opportunities to learn about healthy cooking and eating. Families will gain access to family-based health education through experiential learning, and improvements to environmental supports for physical activity.”
Along with improving food choices and increasing physical activity levels, families enrolled in the program will also be asked to review the sidewalks, streetlights and community parks to assess how they may be improved for families looking to walk, jog, cycle and get outdoors to exercise more often. They will also be encouraged to take part in at-home exercise programs such as Zumba, family games, and others.
“This application addresses a significant health issue in our community: childhood obesity,” Mayor Davis said. “Augusta residents, which includes our own family members, friends, and coworkers, face an obesity epidemic, with one-third of us being obese. We want to take these barriers our families find and make improvements through the city government process as a way to blend the family, community, and local government enterprises.”