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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Georgia State Studies Counties’ Capacity for Child Obesity Prevention

While many communities in Georgia recognize the problem of childhood obesity and are planning ways to prevent it, some have a much longer way to go, according to a recent assessment by researchers from the School of Public Health at Georgia State University.

14-0391 Erica Sheldon
[Photo: Dr. Erica Sheldon]

Ten of the 15 counties studied by the researchers fell into the “preplanning stage,” meaning there is recognition by at least some of their community members that childhood obesity is a significant public health problem and something should be done locally to resolve it. Two counties scored even better — in the “preparation stage”— showing signs of planning and active leadership to identify and allocate resources. However, two others were ranked as being in the “vague awareness stage,” and another in the “denial stage.”

The results of the assessment are published in a report titled, “Community Readiness for Childhood Obesity Prevention: Findings From a Statewide Assessment in Georgia,” in the journal Environment and Behavior. The study’s lead author is Dr. Erica Sheldon, a research coordinator at the School of Public Health and a 2013 MPH graduate of the School.

“Childhood obesity is a major threat to public health,” the researchers noted, citing previous studies that found obesity rates nationally have more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.

“As state governments, national funders, state-and-local foundations, and other nonprofits work to support community efforts, a better understanding of local communities’ readiness to implement evidence-based strategies is vital,” the researchers added.

Researchers conducted interviews to measure how knowledgeable leaders and residents in the 15 counties were about childhood obesity, what resources communities had available to address the issue, existing community efforts and other factors. The report does not identify the counties by name or geography, however it shows that the counties have diverse population sizes and their mean annual household income of $41,475 falls below the state average of $47,765.

The counties scored well overall in terms of having community efforts and resources aimed at preventing childhood obesity but poor in terms of community knowledge of childhood obesity and efforts to prevent it. The report stated the results suggest a gap between work by community leaders and residents’ understanding that a problem exists. Researchers also noted that some residents in these communities may view obesity prevention efforts as intrusive.

“This finding raises questions about whether sufficient resources are being invested to increase the awareness and engagement of community residents,” the report stated.

The study’s authors also included Dr. Rodney Lyn, associate professor of Health Management & Policy; Ms. Laura Bracci, a project manager for childhood obesity research with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and an MPH graduate of the School; and Ms. Mary Ann Phillips, associate project director for Georgia State University’s Health Policy Center at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.