Gov. launched landmark initiative to improve child fitness

Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia Department of Public Health launched Georgia SHAPE, a statewide program merging governmental, philanthropic and academic and business communities to address the state’s childhood obesity epidemic on May 23, 2012.

First Lady Sandra Deal; Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health; the Atlanta Falcons; the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation; the Atlanta Braves and other important leaders were on hand to support the governor’s challenge to Georgians to tackle childhood obesity head on.

The Georgia Student Health and Physical Education (SHAPE) Act was passed in the 2009 Georgia legislative session. Beginning in the 2011-2012 school year, the law requires each local school district to conduct an annual fitness assessment program for all students in grades 1-12 enrolled in Georgia public school physical education classes taught by certified physical education teachers. Parents and children will receive the assessment in the form of a FITNESSGRAM.

“Georgia SHAPE is more than fitness and exercise; it’s about bringing all of Georgia together to reverse the numbers. This really is a call to action by the governor,” Fitzgerald said.

The evidence is clear that childhood obesity is a growing problem in the U.S. and an epidemic in Georgia—the state has the second worst rate for children ages 10-17. Nearly 40 percent of the children in our state are considered overweight or obese. Childhood obesity has serious immediate and long-term effects not only on health and well-being, but on the academic achievement of our children and the economy of our state.

The launch of Georgia SHAPE included the unveiling of a digital portal, one of many strategies aimed at addressing childhood obesity. One of the most exciting aspects of is the fitness directory, where visitors can enter their zip code and the number of miles they are willing to travel. Based on the information provided, a list of area fitness programs will populate, along with details about each.

Additional strategies to combat childhood obesity are planned and include promoting breastfeeding, increasing physical activity and providing better nutritional options for students.  

One of the most highly effective, preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant, including reducing the child’s risk for becoming overweight or obese, is to breastfeed. Sharing research-backed statistics with Georgia businesses may increase the number of employers that adopt policies that support breastfeeding mothers.

Regulations that provide 30 minutes of daily physical activity for every student at school are supported as part of this initiative. And child care programs that implement specific wellness policies and other related training will earn the Governor’s Award, which designates them as a Georgia SHAPE-compliant facility. Developing a mini-grant program to provide resources for schools to employ innovative/evidence-based nutrition programs is also a priority.