Getting healthy: College of Public Health, Action Pack Families aim to reduce obesity in Colquitt County

June 15, 2016

The Red & Black, June 15, 2016

By Tori McElhaney

Mandy Kinsey cannot go to Walmart, let alone a fast food chain without little pairs of eyes watching her every food choice.

“Kids that I teach will just be sitting there watching me,” Kinsey said. “[They will] call me out on poor eating choices.”

The mother of two is the coordinator for Action Pack Families, a program aimed to reduce childhood obesity in Colquitt County, and a University of Georgia graduate.

Courtney Still, a Ph.D. candidate in the College of Public Health said childhood obesity is a problem across the state, as Georgia ranks as the second highest state for childhood obesity.

“Early on Colquitt County and the Healthy Colquitt Coalition prioritized childhood obesity as their number one priority to address in their county,” said Dr. Marsha Davis, the associate dean and professor at the College of Public Health. “Once they reached out to us, we began working and developing programs for their schools and I submitted a grant to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

The grant, Davis said, is a $2.5 million grant that was initiated in August 2013 and will end after the 2017 school year.

UGA, along with its partners in the Healthy Colquitt Coalition, The Archway Project, and volunteers from the local Moultrie YMCA, began programs and lessons in the county’s school system. The program focused on two cohorts of third graders and followed them through the end of fifth grade.

From relay races to making fruit kabobs, twice a month in their segmented P.E. time, kids in Colquitt are learning about eating smart and moving more.

“The kids love the program,” Davis said. “I believe that they are empowered more for their own health and have become more vocal in what they want for their own lives.”

Action Pack Families, funded by the USDA, works to reduce childhood obesity by training students at 10 elementary schools to be change-agents for the community.

“This program is a childhood obesity prevention intervention,” Still said. “Our primary goal is to prevent childhood obesity and our secondary goal is to improve physical activity.”

Still said the program works in three ways: through the schools, at home and in the community.

“We are reaching the kids in the schools with a school-based program but then equipping them to talk to their families at home,” Still said.

Even though Kinsey and Still agree that the kids are taking well to the program, the most challenging aspect of the program is the home component.

Kinsey and Still said what a child eat and does is dictated by their parents’ actions.

“The idea of the intervention is to involve to change the home environment with children to teach them knowledge and skills around healthy eating and physical activity,” Davis said. “Then, for their parents to provide those opportunities for them at home and to take advantage of all the assets that the community provides.”

However, even though the parental involvement is not quite there yet, Davis assures that the community as a whole has seen a number of changes after three years.

“Since the time we have been in Colquitt County, there has been a city park, the local YMCA is expanding and parents are more involved now than they were,” Davis said. “It’s going to be a culmination of all of those things coming together that is going to make a difference. It’s really about changing the ‘norms’.”

For Kinsey and her family, the ‘norms’ that have been changed now result in her ability to see children making healthy choices and her inability to take a trip to a local fast food establishment.

“I wish that I would’ve had something like [Action Pack] when I was younger,” Kinsey said. “I think it is an important part of what makes this grant work with this age group, because they are creating habits now that are going to be hard to break later in their lives.”

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