Fayette County Challenges Georgia's Childhood Obesity Problem
Georgia ranks 8th in the nation for high obesity rates in children aged 10 to 17, a recent study done by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows. But some state officials are working to change that with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Though Georgia does not mandate physical education in middle and high school, leaders in the Fayette County School District have enacted policies to make sure children in the county have access to proper diet and exercise.
This legislation provided funding to schools and allowed the United States Department of Agriculture an opportunity to reshape meal programs, Fayette County School Nutrition Director Kokeeta Wilder said.
Now Fayette County elementary school students are physically active for up to 90 minutes per week throughout the school year, and middle and high school students are required to take one academic year of physical education.
“We offer other activities where students can sign up for, such as the running club, and then, of course, we have other activities that students participate in like football, basketball, lacrosse and other sports,” Wilder said.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study also showed 23.2 percent of children nationwide are food insecure, meaning they have frustrated access to high-quality foods. Fayette County schools reduce food insecurity with farm-to-school programs that allow students to learn about being in control of their own nutrition.
“One of the great things that we do is we teach students how to grow fruits and vegetables, and a lot of our schools have gardens in our district,” Wilder said. “We show them the correlation of growing healthy products and also allowing those to come back in the cafeteria and prepare some of those items.”
Wilder said higher income doesn’t always translate to higher-quality food access.
“Our policy is for all students,” Wilder said. “It doesn't have a difference for income as far as how much activity a child would get or how much access that they’d have to the program.”
Because of the county’s efforts to reduce childhood obesity, the school district received several awards for its wellness programs.
“We really try to model that behavior that we expect from our students so that they will be able to move more and be healthy in their lives by teaching them that at an early age,” Wilder said.