By State Representative Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta)
Today, more than 23 million children and adolescents in the United States are overweight or obese and could be on track to live shorter lives than their parents. Recently in Georgia, the University of Georgia (UGA) described our state as being “at great risk for the disease.” A 2013 UGA study found the following statistics:
● The prevalence of obesity among low-income 2 to 4-year-olds and high-school students is 12.7 and 13.3 percent, respectively.
● The prevalence of obesity among all 10 to 17- year-olds is 16.5 percent
● The prevalence of adult obesity continues to climb, with Georgia now having the 18th highest adult obesity rate in the nation (and over 30 percent of its population is obese).
Just as we did in the early to mid-1900s, it is time for lawmakers, school leaders, parents, and community members to unite to eradicate this epidemic. As one of your state representatives, I stand ready to lead this charge.
Initial obesity symptoms may seem minor, but the complications are great. Heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes are just a few of the chronic illnesses that can result from childhood obesity. These conditions will plague the lives of our children if we continue down this volatile path of unhealthy habits and apathy.
Therefore, I propose that we focus on childhood obesity and its debilitating effects on the health of Georgia’s children this legislative session, especially those affected by poverty. We need a multi-faceted, multi-pronged approach that includes input from all stakeholders and looks at the issue holistically.
When it comes to our children, schools serve as a “ground zero” for health. Children spend most of their hours each day, and consume on average half their daily calories, at school. Unfortunately in the past, many schools did not have options to balance their offerings of sugary drinks and less healthy foods with lower-calorie, healthier food and drink options, but I am proud to say we are working to reverse this.
We should continue to use public policy as a tool for combatting obesity. I have supported the Atlanta Public Schools to help ensure students have nutritious food and drink options throughout the school day by fully implementing the federal Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act (HHFKA). The HHFKA provides federal funding and support to schools looking to offer more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It also provides nutrition guidelines to ensure that our children’s school meals and snacks contain the right fuel for their growing bodies and minds.
Public awareness campaigns and community-oriented policy solutions are additional tools. By providing healthier food options and educating families we can spur self-empowered change in our communities. Initiatives such as establishing urban community gardens, encouraging healthier grocery store and fast casual restaurant options to locate to the area, and partnering with local food and beverage industry giants to educate communities about the causes and risks of obesity will help us address obesity in a community-oriented way.
Lastly, as lawmakers, we must do all we can to ensure our kids have safe, well-lit places to play and be physically active. This can be hard to find throughout my district, and similar urban areas, but this is not an excuse. Let’s introduce more joint-use agreements such as partnerships between municipal, county, school districts, and state governments to allow after-hours access to public play and recreation spaces in an effort to make more public facilities available for our children.
The impacts of obesity on Georgia’s future are too great for us to remain silent. Let’s start the conversation of how to make these ideas a reality in 2015 and beyond. If we work to stamp out obesity today, we can give all of our children a brighter tomorrow.
Representative Keisha Waites represents the citizens of District 60, which includes Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, parts of the City of Atlanta, and other portions of Fulton and Clayton counties. She was first elected into the House of Representatives in 2012, and currently serves as a member on the Transportation, Juvenile Justice, Public Safety and Homeland Security, Interstate Cooperation, and Special Rules committees.