Just how fat Georgians are depends on who you ask, even within the same federal health agency, but parents are going to get their own reality check when school starts this fall.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its annual obesity estimates this week, and one branch of the CDC says Georgia is at 29.6 percent obesity. The survey that the estimate is based on, generated by another branch of the CDC, puts the estimate at 30.4 percent.
The difference in the annual telephone survey is that one branch of the CDC tends to throw out "extreme values," such as those who say they weigh more than 500 pounds, when it makes its obesity estimates, said the Georgia Department of Public Health.
The state, however, contends that the higher figure is the one that should be used and that it would put the state in an ignominious group of the dozen states in 2010 that were estimated to have 30 percent or greater obesity, or what is being called "the dirty 30," said Chad Neilsen, an obesity and physical activity epidemiologist for the state.
"It does signify that if you are in that 30 percent, you are in the bad 12 states, and those are the ones where the most efforts are being pushed in terms of prevention," he said. "But taking that number here at the state, whether it is 29.6 or 30.4, we still have our certain level of preventive efforts and programs."
One of the states that joined the 30 percent group last year was South Carolina, at 31.5 percent obesity. Just 10 years ago, no state had 30 percent or above obesity, the CDC said. The numbers are self-reported, which some research has shown could be nearly 10 points off the actual rate of obesity because people tend to under-report their weight.
"(Statisticians at the CDC would) readily tell you that, yes, it is likely an under-reported number," Neilsen said. "Unfortunately, there is not a good way to estimate what the percentage would be if people were being truthful or accurate."
To try to get a handle on all of that fat, the state gets grants from CDC to work with community groups and implement programs. For instance, the state passed the Georgia Student Health and Physical Education Act, which requires that students in grades 1-12 in PE classes be assessed for fitness, said Sonya Crutchfield, the nutrition and physical activity program manager for the state. That report then goes to the parents.
The law was rolled out as a pilot program last year in five school systems but will take effect statewide this fall. That could be an eye-opener for some parents. Despite the epidemic of childhood obesity, a poll last year found 84 percent of parents thought their children were at a healthy weight.
The new reports will likely cause some parents to say, "OK, now what do we do next?" Crutchfield said.
That's why the state is working with groups such as the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to conduct physician training for those who might not have much familiarity with nutrition or related issues, she said.
"We're working with (the physician group) to be able to do some training around physicians on how to counsel on obesity because we know these numbers are going to generate some questions," Crutchfield said.