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Gov. visits White County to outline new obesity program
Friendship Elementary in Hall will also participate in pilot program
Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday discusses a statewide program that will tackle the child obesity problem during a visit to White County Intermediate School in Cleveland. Students at the school participated in the pilot program. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Gov. Nathan Deal took a road trip Monday morning to White County to talk about childhood obesity and a pilot program that’s going statewide later this year.

White County Intermediate School, along with Friendship Elementary School in Hall County, participated in the program called Student Health and Physical Education. Schools in Gwinnett, Bibb and Lowndes counties also participated.

“I want you to understand that the things you will be doing here will have a significant impact across the state and possibly the country,” Deal said to students during a special assembly at the White County school.

In the fall, the SHAPE program will be implemented across Georgia, which has one of the worst rates of childhood obesity in the nation.

According to Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Georgia Division of Public Health, 20 percent of the state’s children have obesity-related health issues.

“The health care price tag for childhood obesity in Georgia is $2.4 billion annually and rising,” Deal said. “That’s the bad news. The good news is that this problem is fixable. The SHAPE partnership is an innovative approach to getting Georgia kids fit and on a path to healthy living.”

The initiative requires schools to measure the physical fitness level of first- through 12th-grade physical education students using the Fitnessgram assessment. The test measures a student’s body mass index, which is used to determine if an individual is at a healthy weight level for their age and height.

Friendship Elementary School in Buford has been voluntarily completing the Fitnessgram tests for the last few years.

Friendship principal Berry Walton said the assessment has fit right into the school’s transition to become a “wellness school.”

“Research shows that the stronger the body is, the stronger the mind,” Walton said. “Our goal is to improve the overall fitness of our students and to have fun doing it. We want to encourage lifestyle changes that make fitness a positive aspect of our children’s lives.”

Data gathered from the assessments will be used to establish a baseline for student physical fitness statewide. The information will ultimately be used to track and monitor trends and to develop strategies for combatting childhood obesity in Georgia.

“SHAPE allows students to measure their own progress in physical fitness, and it puts the power of competition into effect as schools jockey for recognition and equipment through the Governor’s Fitness Honor Roll,” Deal said.

The program is expected to reach 1 million students in more than 2,000 schools and it will cost $3 million to roll out statewide over the next three years.

The initiative is being sponsored through a public-private partnership through the governor’s office, the Arthur Blank Family Foundation, the Georgia Department of Education, the Georgia Department of Community Health, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the Atlanta Falcons, the Atlanta Braves and the Georgia Division of Public Health.

“We know that what’s good for the body is great for the brain,” said Penny McPhee, president of the Blank foundation.

“When kids are active for 60 minutes each day, great things happen at school. Regular exercise is like fertilizer for the brain.”

In addition to measuring physical fitness, the SHAPE initiative will also take a look at making sure schools are serving nutritious meals.