The University of Georgia has been awarded a two-year, $1.25 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to boost obesity prevention efforts in Georgia's most affected rural counties, Calhoun and Taliaferro.
UGA will work with county leaders and local stakeholders to improve nutrition and increase physical activity in projects called Healthier Together Calhoun and Healthier Together Taliaferro.
Land-grant colleges and universities, located in states with counties with an adult obesity prevalence of over 40 percent, were able to apply for the special funding available through the CDC's Programs to Reduce Obesity in High Obesity Areas.
"To have a major impact on obesity, we must involve multiple sectors within communities – elected officials, churches, businesses, grocery stores and local health departments – and use multiple strategies," said Marsha Davis, principal investigator of the project and associate dean of outreach and engagement at the UGA College of Public Health.
The project will be led by the College of Public Health and UGA Cooperative Extension, an outreach unit of the university supported by specialists in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. Additional partners include UGA's J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a public service and outreach unit; local, district and state UGA Extension offices; local community organizations; and local, district and state public health departments.
The primary goal of the project is to implement environmental changes to promote healthy eating and physical activity in places where children, youth and families spend their time. Proposed interventions involve working with schools, community organizations, local government and businesses to serve healthy food, sell healthy food, and create places to be physically active.
"Obesity prevention needs to go beyond addressing individual behaviors. We must modify the environments in which we live that shape and support those behaviors," Davis said. "We need to make the healthy choice, the easy choice."
These policy and environmental strategies will be bolstered by education and outreach services already in place in both counties and supported through UGA Extension including Georgia 4-H and Walk Georgia.
"Health and wellness are major focus areas for UGA Extension programming and we in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences are delighted to team up with the College of Public Health, the Fanning Institute and the College of Family and Consumer Sciences to address obesity," said Laura Perry Johnson, associate dean of UGA Extension. "Working together, we are all stronger and can better serve the citizens of Georgia."
The Fanning Institute, with its expertise in leadership development, training and education, will help facilitate the work of the community leaders and stakeholders to identify and support the programs promoting healthy eating and physical activity in their community.
"We will engage leaders across all sectors of a community who can act to prevent obesity, help them evaluate their assets, and identify contributions they can make to create long-term, sustainable change for preventing obesity," said Maritza Soto Keen, senior public service associate at the Fanning Institute.
Obesity is one of the most daunting public health challenges facing Georgia. According to the 2015 State of Obesity Report by the Trust for Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Georgia ranked as the 19th most obese state in the U.S., with the 15th highest diabetes rate in the nation.
"While our goal for this project is to decrease adult and childhood obesity in Calhoun and Taliaferro counties, 30 more rural counties in Georgia are confronting levels of obesity at or above 35 percent. We hope what we learn from this work will be a first step in addressing this issue statewide," Davis said.