ATLANTA - About one in five Georgia children are overweight and another one in six are at risk of becoming overweight, mainly because of a lack of exercise and a poor diet, a new study has found.
The study by the Healthcare Georgia Foundation found that 41 percent of Georgia adolescents do not get 20 minutes or more of physical activity three or more days each week as recommended and less than a third of Georgia middle and high school students attend physical education classes daily.
"We are in danger of having the first generation of children that might live sicker and die younger than the generation before them," said Gary Nelson, foundation president.
As a result, health officials are working on ways to get Georgia's children more active. They say physical education classes in schools are a good start, but is not the entire solution.
"Although we think that physical education is important, we did not want anybody to think that this is sort of the 'Holy Grail' - the issue is much more complex. It requires more than getting kids more active in the school system," said Dr. Bill Kanto, co-director of the Georgia Center for the Prevention of Obesity and Related Disorders and chairman of pediatrics at the Medical College of Georgia.
The Georgia findings mirror national trends of overweight children. The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than a third of high school students do not regularly engage in vigorous physical activity. Daily participation in high school physical education classes dropped from 42 percent in 1991 to 32 percent in 2001.
"It's all a combination that has evolved in a more sedentary lifestyle with a diet high in calories and portions," said Dr. David Satcher, former U.S. surgeon general and interim president of the Morehouse School of Medicine. "Healthy lifestyles are a very important part of learning."
The government recommends that children get an hour to 90 minutes of moderate to physical activity each day.
Besides helping to control weight, regular physical activity reduces a person's risk for heart attack, colon cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure, and may reduce their risk for stroke.
Parents and doctors must get children to be "more careful" with what they eat and exercise more, Kanto said.
The lack of physical activity in the state's schools may have grown out of the increased emphasis on students to perform better on standardized tests, Kanto said.
"A lot of time in the curriculuum that had gone to physical activity has been usurped by traditional academic pursuits," Kanto said. "We think that's contributed to some of the problem; we'd like to reverse that."
Already there has been controversy over the best way for schools, parents and children to discuss weight issues. Earlier this month, state House members introduced legislation that would have required the state's schoolchildren to be weighed twice a year, with the results listed on report cards. Arkansas has a similar program.
Complaints about the Georgia proposal prompted the bill's sponsor, Rep. Stephanie Benfield, D-Atlanta, to drop the idea. She said she'll instread try other ways to help fight childhood obesity in Georgia.