ATLANTA - It's a situation so dire it's being called an epidemic. Childhood obesity is an issue that could eventually affect every person in Georgia.
Very recently, Georgia ranked near the top in the country for childhood obesity. The state has made some improvements on that ranking, but the reality is Georgia is a state of very unhealthy children.
If that doesn't change, experts say we'll be paying down the road in higher health care costs and lost wages for workers with more health issues.
State officials also believe it may be harder to attract new businesses to the state when a potential workforce is so unhealthy.
Georgia health officials recently gave 1 million school children a fitness test. More than 75 percent of them failed.
"Only 16 percent of the children were able to pass all the basic fitness program parameters," said Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, who is the director of the Georgia Department of Public Health.
"(The parameters) were simple, like walking a mile and touching your toes," she said.
Fitzgerald said state records show 43 percent of Georgia children are in the unhealthy weight category. For those children, action needs to be taken now.
Some Georgia youngsters are getting adult diseases, like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and knee and hip problems.
"What we found was that about 75 percent of parents with an overweight or obese child didn't realize their kids were overweight or obese. They just don't want to accept it," said Linda Matzigkeit, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Chief Administrator Officer.
Studies on obesity rates in Georgia show the answers to how the state got in this situation are plenty, and some of them are obvious.
Children are spending too much time watching television or playing video games, and not engaging in enough physical activity. Add that to unhealthy food choices and too much fast food.
"What we have is access to food all the time," said Dr. Stephanie Walsh, a pediatrician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
"Not only is fast food more plentiful, but we also are just able to go there whenever we want," she said.
Experts said the topic of overweight or obese children is not an easy one, but the problem is past the point of being polite.
"It's still one of those tabloid or taboo and stigmatized discussions, so the awareness issue and getting information out is a good first step to get people to at least have the dialogue," said psychologist Dr. Josh Spitalnick.
The Wehold family of Gwinnett County decided to make changes after a trip to the doctors with their oldest daughter.
"Going to the pediatrician and seeing the weight gain, then looking in the mirror and thinking, I used to be healthy. I used to work out," said Chris Wehold.
The entire family is getting healthier as part of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta's Strong4Life movement. It's a movement with a much different approach than before.
The program meets families where they are in the progress, and instead of focusing on weight loss, it focuses on lifestyle changes.
It's a lesson Emliee Wehold learned quickly.
"They ask, would you like a doughnut, and I'm like, no thank you," Emilee said.
"I know what's right and I know what's wrong, so I'm choosing the right thing to do," she added.
Childhood obesity problem could be costly to Georgia's future
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