School location, income found to impact Georgia Shape roll out

Since the launch of the Georgia Shape childhood obesity initiative in 2011, schools statewide have been encouraged to provide more opportunities for physical activity, whether that’s through recess or movement integrated into the classroom.

But according to a recent study from the University of Georgia, schools in suburban areas of the state and schools with higher rates of poverty showed lower opportunities for physical activity.

Individual characteristics of schools can influence how statewide policy is implemented, said study lead author Janani R. Thapa, an assistant professor of health policy and management and director of the Economic Evaluation Research Group at UGA’s College of Public Health.

“We were really interested in looking at school-level variables that might affect policy implementation,” she said.

Thapa and her co-authors compared physical activity opportunities provided during the school day, measured as minutes per day, before and during the initiative’s roll out, and then they evaluated the changes with respect to school-level variables. These included race, gender, school size, socioeconomic status, and geographic location of schools.

There was an overall increase in total physical activity opportunities, but schools in districts with higher rates of poverty offered on average five fewer minutes of physical activity per day after the roll out.

“The results are very telling in the sense that, first, we know that implementation isn’t homogeneous across all schools, and we also found that like many other health issues, it comes back to low socioeconomic status and the geographic location of the school,” said Thapa.

It’s important to understand how to best support school-based health policies, she continued, because schools play a key role in the development of health behaviors.

“Kids spend a significant amount of time at school. And it’s not just the time, but the influence that different players have as children grow. Their peers play a role. Their teachers play a role. The overall school environment, how we are promoting physical activity, it all plays a role,” she said.

Statewide initiatives like Georgia Shape hold promise in promoting physical activity, says Thapa, but more work needs to be done looking beyond the boundary of the school to inform the design and implementation of these types of policies. Thapa and an interdisciplinary team at UGA are beginning some of that work now.

Though this study can’t answer why socioeconomic status and geography make a difference for Shape implementation, Thapa says it does suggest that additional support is needed for some Georgia schools.

“All resources are available to all schools, but some schools need more uplifting, before those resources can help,” she said.

The study, “Longitudinal evaluation of the impact of school characteristics on changes in physical activity opportunities,” published in PLoS One. It is available online here:

Co-authors include Justin Ingels, Kiran Thapa and Marsha Davis, with the UGA College of Public Health, and Phaedra Corso with Kennesaw State University.

– Lauren Baggett

Posted on March 3, 2020.