Georgia Shape, the Governor’s statewide, multi-agency and multi-dimensional initiative that brings together governmental, philanthropic, academic and business communities to address childhood (0-18) obesity in Georgia, was launched in 2012 by the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH). Efforts focus on schools, communities, child care centers, government and policy agencies, businesses, hospitals, and medical practices. Georgia Shape grew from the mandate passed in 2009 requiring all public school students in grades 1st-12th enrolled in physical education to participate in the Fitnessgram fitness test (which was recently named the national standardized fitness assessment). Georgia Shape, the Georgia Department of Education, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and HealthMPowers worked together to effectively train physical educators across the state how to successfully implement the Fitnessgram assessment in their school setting. Training is still available through webinars and booster sessions are conducted as needed.
What kind of work does Shape do?
Some of the many Georgia Shape programs include: Power Up for 30, a statewide physical activity program for Georgia’s elementary schools; the Georgia Shape Grantee program, a planning and implementation grant program that provides technical assistance to schools for starting or furthering their wellness policies and activities; the Governor’s Shape Honor Roll program, a recognition program for schools engaged in best school wellness practices; the Georgia Shape/Quality Rated Early Care Center program, a recognition for early care centers that are adhering to the highest level of nutrition and physical activity best practices, and the Five Star, Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, which recognizes birthing hospitals across the state that are working toward Baby Friendly status (breastfeeding best practices).
What data or evidence informs Georgia Shape?
Georgia ranks 17th in the nation for childhood obesity. (In 2009, Georgia ranked second.) Poor diet and lack of physical activity contribute to the rise in childhood obesity. Only 52% of middle school students and 43% of high school students in Georgia currently meet the CDC recommendations for physical activity. More than 44% of Georgia’s middle school students and 39% of high school students watch television for three or more hours on a school day and only 17% of high school students in Georgia consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day. In 2008, Georgians spent $2.4 billion on the direct medical costs of obesity and productivity loss from disease, disability and death. In Georgia, obesity- related hospitalizations of children aged 2 – 19 years increased 338% over the eleven year period from 1999 to 2010.
In 2013, Georgia Shape collected data from 1.14 million public school students via the Fitnessgram fitness assessment. The results were alarming: 41% of students were outside the Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) for Body Mass index (or at an unhealthy weight), only 19% were able to reach the HFZ for all five fitness assessments (basic assessments measuring flexibility, muscular strength, muscular endurance, aerobic capacity and body mass index), and 25% of the student population was unable to reach the HFZ for any of the five basic fitness components.
What are the overall goals and key objectives of Georgia Shape?
The overall goal of the initiative is to improve the health of young people in Georgia by offering assistance and the opportunity to achieve a greater level of overall fitness while decreasing childhood obesity measures. More specifically, over the next ten years, Georgia Shape will work toward increasing the number of students in the HFZ for Body Mass index by 10%.
This is accomplished by:
- Establishing a basic, benchmark measurement of fitness among Georgia students through the Fitnessgram standardized assessment
- Collecting rich baseline survey data regarding physical activity in elementary schools through the Power Up for 30 Initiative (*Currently piloting this instrument for middle school populations)
- Identifying areas of need (through Fitnessgram, Department of Education Data, Food Access Measures, Healthcare Data, and related partner data) and targeting those areas
- Increasing children’s (and families’) knowledge of their current health-related fitness levels
- Increasing children/family’s capacity to develop and implement strategies for personal improvement
Does Georgia Shape use existing programs or best practices?
Georgia Shape’s approach to increasing physical activity in schools is rooted in research. Research has shown that repeated stimulation and activation of the brain through exercise/physical activity can result in an improved learning capacity (“Spark” by Harvard physician John Ratey, 2008; and Research/Scan, Dr. Chuck Hillman, University of Illinois Physical Activity and Learning Connection). Additionally, the University of Kansas’ Physical Activity Across the Curriculum (2009) involved 26 elementary schools integrating physical activity into curriculum for 3 years. For 90 minutes a week, moderate to vigorous physical activity was integrated into academic lessons. Significant improvements were made in academic achievement from baseline to three years compared to the control schools for the composite reading, math, and spelling scores.
Georgia Shape used these approaches to increase physical activity, and this study informed next steps in the initiative, such as the Power Up for 30 program. This program aligns with the National Physical Activity
Guideline recommendation that youth ages 6 to 17 accumulate at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. By adding 30 minutes to the school day in addition to physical education class, students are closer to the recommendation by the end of the school day. The Institute of Medicine recommends that schools provide at least half of that time during the school day. This Program also aligns with the CDC’s Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program. The Power Up for 30 teacher training sessions allow participants to script and then implement action plans that adhere to the CDC recommendations. Georgia Shape is also proud to announce that Power Up for 30 is now evidence- based! The Power Up for 30 pilot evaluated 39 elementary schools (4th grade) and showed significant improvements after implementation of the program. Aerobic Capacity, Body Mass Index (both overweight and underweight), and moderate to vigorous physical activity measures all improved. Third party, nationally known researchers analyzed these data which will continue to inform the initiative as it is delivered across the state.
Great resources that physicians may want to share with families and kids are available on the Georgia Shape website, including a fitness app, healthy recipes, and tips to stay active at both school and at home.