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April 1, 2012

A report released this month will help Columbus address its growing childhood obesity issue, specifically in its metropolitan area. The University of Georgia Fanning Institute conducted the three-month health needs assessment and outlined nine strategies for community action.

The community report describes factors specific to Columbus that contribute to childhood obesity and presents activities that will form the blueprint to make Columbus a "Live Healthy City." Live Healthy Columbus, in partnership with the Strong4Life program at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, along with resources from the Georgia Department of Public Health commissioned the study.

"We know that this is a significant issue nationally, but we needed to get a handle on the issue here in our community," said Dr. Joseph Zanga, chair of Live Healthy Columbus. "What we found is that we have much work to do, but we also have many resources in place to reverse this trend."

Using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended community strategies as a guide, the potential steps the community can consider to reduce childhood obesity include creating incentives to increase access to healthy foods in 10 neighborhoods considered to be food deserts; increasing physical activity and healthier eating in public schools, homes and work places; and supporting efforts to make the city more friendly for walking and biking. Each strategy is supported by data collected locally, and each activity is supported by research related to best practices.

As part of the study, more than 200 Columbus residents participated in online surveys, focus groups, individual interviews and conversations with Live Healthy Columbus members. Of the survey respondents, 92 percent believe childhood obesity is a growing problem and 96 percent are worried about the future health of children in the Columbus-Muscogee community.

Childhood obesity in Georgia has risen from approximately 10 percent in 1985 to more than 30 percent currently. Being overweight or obese has serious long-term health impacts, including increased risk for diabetes and heart disease, and contributes to higher health care costs.

This study complements the new Obesity Initiative at UGA, launched this year to address adult and childhood obesity and its related diseases. Advances in research and efforts in outreach aim to improve the health of Georgia's citizens and decrease the cost of health care in the state.

The Fanning Institute is a public service and outreach unit at the University of Georgia. Dedicated to building a better Georgia, the Fanning Institute partners with communities and non-profit organizations to strengthen capacity, enhance leadership and foster economic prosperity.

Live Healthy Columbus is a local coalition dedicated to addressing childhood obesity.