Obesity: It’s No Longer a Personal Challenge

UGA hosted a showing of HBO’s “The Weight of the Nation” in an effort to bring an awareness of the nation’s obesity epidemic to Athens, Ga.

Georgia citizens are struggling, along with others around the nation, to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Yet, Georgia seems to be having an especially difficult time. It’s one of only seven states that has doubled its rate of obesity in the past 15 years, according to the University of Georgia (UGA) Obesity Initiative.

In an effort to raise awareness of the problems associated with obesity, UGA hosted a showing of HBO’s “The Weight of the Nation” earlier this week, followed by a panel discussion with university health experts.

The four-part documentary series concentrates on how obesity can affect the health of individuals, communities and, ultimately, the nation. The first segment in the series was presented by the Georgia Public Health Training Center and National Association of Chronic Disease Directors.

“I think we need to talk about reframing this issue,” said Dr. Karen Hilyard, one of the three panelist speakers featured after the movie. “Up until now we’ve thought of obesity as an issue of personal responsibility; we need to think of it not as a personal issue but as a community issue.”

Hilyard, an assistant professor of health communication, was joined on the panel by Dr. Marsha Davis, associate professor and graduate coordinator. Both professors work in the Department of Health Promotion and Behavior within the College of Public Health. Dr. Connie Crawley, senior public service associate and extension nutrition and health specialist in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, filled the final panel member position.

“[The documentary] really does an excellent job of going over all the issues facing us today,” said Crawley. It is estimated that, if things keep going as they have been, 50 percent of people in Georgia will be considered obese by 2030, she continued.

In 2010, 37 percent of adults in Georgia were considered overweight and 28 percent, obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Forty percent of children in Georgia were overweight or obese in 2010, positioning Georgia as one of the fattest states in the country.

“We thought this would be a great documentary to show because it talks about obesity and the chronic diseases associated with obesity,” said Rachel Powell, student director for the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors and the event organizer. Powell is a second year PhD student in the College of Public Health.

Obese adults have an increased risk of developing more than 20 major chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gall bladder disease and some cancers, according to the Initiative. They are also at higher risk for stroke.

But adults aren’t the only ones susceptible to chronic diseases. Overweight and obese children have an increased risk for hypertension, diabetes, asthma and low self-esteem.

The three panelists agreed that obesity is today a national problem with far reaching economic consequences.

Direct health care costs and loss of productivity from disease, disability and death are a part of the estimated $2.4 billion spent on obesity in Georgia each year, according to UGA.

In an effort to address the issue, UGA formed the Obesity Initiative in 2012. The Initiative is a collaboration of more than 100 faculty members from a variety of disciplines and expertise, all of which focus on obesity. Dr. Clif Bailes leads it.

“If you have an idea, get in touch with someone [at the Initiative],” Hilyard said in reference to suggestions for community-based activities with a focus on obesity.

The university also provides health and nutrition programs through the Cooperative Extension, including a 12-week online fitness program called Walk Georgia. It allows participants to log their miles as they virtually “walk” across Georgia.

Consuming a healthy breakfast, encouraging physical activity and limiting television time and eating out can help generate a healthy lifestyle, Crawley said, naming the American Academy of Pediatrics as the source of her suggestions.

“It’s important for us to not blame an individual, but to work as a community,” Davis said. “It’s really working together for community driven solutions that help us all work together for a healthy lifestyle.”

“The Weight of the Nation” series is available online and free to access.

– Lacey Avery

Posted September 21, 2012.