Baldwin Co. Family Connection aims for lower childhood obesity rates

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MILLEDGEVILLE — More than 60 percent of third-graders in Baldwin County are considered to be obese. Baldwin County Family Connection hopes to implement strategies to help decrease that percentage through Georgia Family Connection Partnership’s (GaFCP) new pilot program, the Childhood Obesity Prevention Initiative.

With support from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Childhood Obesity Prevention Initiative’s pilot program is already underway in Baldwin, Newton and Talbot counties to develop, apply and evaluate strategies using practices to address obesity indicators.

“The hope is for these three counties to work together and provide some additional support and resources to one another. By focusing on the same issue, we can make a greater impact by working collaboratively,” said Janet Cavin, Baldwin County Family Connection coordinator. “We’ve made a three-year commitment to work together and also receive some grant funding as we go through the process to hopefully add some additional programs and continue programs we already have in place in Baldwin County.”

Baldwin County Family Connection, Live Healthy Baldwin and Baldwin County Parks and Recreation partnered to offer a month-long healthy living camp at the Collins P. Lee Center last month to reinforce healthy habits. Another way local Family Connection officials plan to lower the childhood obesity rate is to aid educators in providing creative ways to get students physically active.

“We will be working with school teachers in public schools to begin providing additional ways children can be active during the school day,” Cavin said.

As obesity and the literacy gap are threatening Georgians’ health, safety and ability to prosper, GaFCP is also engaging in another new initiative called the Early Childhood-Grade-Level-Reading Campaign, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in Charlton, Polk and Seminole counties.

“We’re targeting childhood obesity and reading on grade level by the end of third grade because these are lead indicators. Both determine the well-being of children later in life, and are connected to several other indicators,” Rebekah Hudgins, community cohorts project manager at GaFCP, said via press release. “We invited these collaboratives to participate because their county childhood obesity or grade-level reading rate trends are worse than the state average. They’re committed to improving these indicators in their counties, and they have the capacity to implement a strategy. Our hope is that we will begin to bring attention to these indicators and where they intersect. And where they together can improve child and family well-being across Georgia.”

According to GaFCP, Georgia spends $2.4 billion each year treating obesity-related diseases, and for the first time in U.S. history, children are expected to live shorter lives than their parents due to the consequences of obesity. Also more than 70 percent of Georgia’s children are moving on to the fourth grade without learning to read proficiently, which puts them on the dropout track.

“About 62 percent of third-graders in Baldwin County are obese. Live Healthy Baldwin has already been fully established for several years focusing on the childhood obesity issue in Baldwin County so we thought we had a wonderful partner in this already,” Cavin said. “Throughout our strategic planning process, we will do an overall community assessment, look at challenges and the group of people that need more attention. We will work on this for the next three to five years to hopefully significantly reduce the percentage of children considered obese. But we can’t make a difference unless the whole community gets behind this.”

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