For the first time, Georgia has a snapshot of what health in the Peach State looks like in the inaugural Healthy Georgia report.
The project was the brainchild of Dr. Biplab Datta, assistant professor in the Institute of Public and Preventive Health and the Medical College of Georgia’s Department of Population Health Sciences, who collaborated with other IPPH faculty and staff to bring the report to fruition.
“We wanted to provide the policymakers and stakeholders with a tangible product that will help them implement policies and set future strategies,” said Datta. “That was the overall idea to provide a snapshot of what’s going on in Georgia. Where are the scopes of improvement? Are we doing better in some areas, and are there ways to extend that success to others where we may need to improve?”
Using 2020 data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a self-reported survey conducted annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the report compared the prevalence of several chronic conditions as well as behavioral and preventative health issues among Georgians compared to the southeast and the rest of the country.
“We are trying to sell this report as a positive vibe through this report, showing that while we may lag in some areas, we are doing well in others,” added Datta.
The study included high cholesterol, hypertension, obesity, arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, heavy drinking, HIV risk behavior, breast cancer screening, smoking and more. It also broke down each category by age, sex, race, income level and other socioeconomic indicators to get a true representation of the data.
Dr. Aaron Johnson, director of IPPH, said one surprise in the study was finding that the obesity level is still on the rise — not only in Georgia, but also throughout the U.S.
“As much time, effort and expense that we put into addressing the obesity epidemic over the last 20-plus years, it is still steadily going up,” Johnson said.
In the report, it’s tough to conclude a general theme from the data since so many variables are in play.
“If you look at the racial and ethnic disparities, and compare that with other southeastern states or at the national level, you can see variations. You cannot generalize the findings for all topics, but have to look at things topic by topic,” said Datta.
Johnson even mentioned Atlanta likely influences the overall data since no other state in the southeast has a city its size.
“If you look at those counties in North Atlanta, that are more affluent counties, their health measures are going to be much better than the rest of the state of Georgia. So if you pull those out, we’re probably pretty similar to other southeast states,” said Johnson.
For this first report, the scope of the study was limited to data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Datta indicated they had to pick topics where data was available for not only Georgia, but also the rest of the country. As more data points become available, they’ll be included in future studies.
“One thing we weren’t able to include in this — because the BRFSS data just doesn’t have it — is the opioid epidemic. I would love to put information about that in the next report,” said Johnson.
He added that while gun violence isn’t always recognized as a public health issue, that could be included, too.
“Partly driven by the pandemic, gun-related deaths have skyrocketed, gun violence has skyrocketed and that has impacted certain populations more heavily than others. So I think highlighting that in the next report would be good,” added Johnson.
“The one thing I think we missed in this report is the broader mental health issues. It’s an emerging public health concern and Georgia just passed the mental health bill; so I think in the next few years we’ll definitely try to cover much more of a broader spectrum,” Datta said.
The overall goal would be to meet with state lawmakers to explain the report in more depth. Johnson indicated that Margie Miller, associate vice president for government relations at Augusta University, could help give them the chance.
Johnson and Datta are hoping to have the next report completed by January 2023, and say that having the right people look at it could play a big role in policy creation.
“Getting the report in the hands of influential lawmaker that will be a champion for making decisions based on data and evidence is really critical. That could help the report have some significant influence,” said Johnson.