Industry, university, and national and state health officials will gather next week to address ways to work together to tackle Georgia’s weight problem. Advocates must also address a culture that works against them, a Georgia Health Sciences University researcher said.
Georgia is second nationally in overweight and obese children and is in the top 20 for women, said Dr. Deborah Young-Hyman, a professor of pediatrics at GHSU who works on childhood obesity. She is serving on an expert panel at a conference at Georgia Tech sponsored by Georgia Bio, which promotes the life sciences industries in Georgia.
“It provides the opportunity for various constituencies – industry, health care – to say, ‘Wow, these are ideas I can bring home and do appear to be adaptable and adoptable in my environment.’ ” Young-Hyman said. “This is a severe but addressable problem.”
But there are also forces working against those efforts. While there might be programs around Atlanta or around major academic or research universities, the rest of the state is lacking, Young-Hyman said.
“The populations that don’t have access to major health care centers or highly resourced geographic areas don’t get the services and don’t have the programs,” she said. “There aren’t a lot of government dollars that can be taken away from other things to allocate to this problem.”
Another problem is the trend toward more physical inactivity by watching television or sitting in front of a computer, which is commonly called screen time, Young-Hyman said,
“Screen time is, besides sleep, the period of time when you are expending the least amount of calories in terms of physical activity,” she said. “We as a society are spending more and more time in front of screens. Some of that is unavoidable. Our culture doesn’t promote being physically active at this point in time.”
The food that is most prevalent and most affordable also tends to be the worst nutritionally, Young-Hyman said.
“Our culture tends to promote obesogenic food choices – fast food, processed food, prepackaged foods, microwaveable foods that are economic for people versus time-consuming to cook fruits and vegetables,” she said.
Some national figures are trying to address those food choices and the need for more physical activity, which is helping focus attention on the problem, Young-Hyman said.
“One of the reasons I believe that this issue has risen to the top, to the top of the public forum, is because of (first lady) Michelle Obama,” she said.
Even when there is a willingness to address the problem, however, there still has to be grassroots-level acceptance. Often, that means funding to work on that problem, Young-Hyman said.
“I personally hope this kind of conference will turn our attention back around to that,” she said.