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UGA public health researcher receives $2.5 million grant to combat childhood obesity

By   /   August 9, 2012  /   Comments Off

Athens, Ga. – Marsha Davis, an associate professor in the University of Georgia College of Public Health’s department of health promotion and behavior, recently received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The five-year grant will support a community-based childhood obesity prevention program in Colquitt County, which is located in southwest Georgia.

The prevention program’s key partners are the College of Public Health and the Colquitt County community and elementary schools. The UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences and Cooperative Extension will provide additional support for the effort.

The program, Davis said, is being designed to engage 600 third graders through an obesity-prevention program that includes their families, schools and community. Her goal is to equip children in Colquitt County with the practical skills they need to become “change agents” for their families and schools.

“Because obesity is such a complex issue, we need to work with the community,” Davis said. “Families and schools represent the most important targets for obesity prevention efforts in children. In addition to adopting better habits for themselves at an early age, children also can work to alter behaviors among the adults in the community.”

The students will participate in a school curriculum that will promote healthy eating habits and physical activity and teach them how to share the lessons they learn. Interactive workshops will be held for parents with sessions focusing on practical strategies for increasing availability and accessibility of healthy foods in the home, reducing TV time and planning for healthy meals.

“We’re hoping the children will help their families eat better, be more physically active and, ultimately, become advocates for a healthy community,” Davis said.

Davis’s program grew out of a host of initiatives associated with the collaborative Archway Partnership, which pairs resources from UGA with communities throughout the state. Colquitt County has been very active in creating community-wide environmental and policy changes to encourage healthy living, such as farmers markets, school gardens, walking trails and mobile vans to deliver produce to areas in the county that don’t have easy access to fresh food.

If successful, Davis said the program could be readily disseminated through existing Cooperative Extension channels and other public service and outreach units at UGA to communities throughout Georgia.

UGA College of Public Health
Founded in 2005 as a response to the state’s need to address important health concerns in Georgia, the UGA College of Public Health is comprised of four departments and two research institutes as well as the Center for Global Health. The college offers degree programs in biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, health promotion and behavior, public health, health policy and management and toxicology as well as certificate programs in gerontology, disaster management and global health. Graduates from the College of Public Health—nationally known for its work related to infectious disease, cancer research, gerontology, disaster preparedness and other areas—typically go on to a diverse range of careers, including medicine, health education, emergency management, public health policy, environmental science and social work. For more information, see www.publichealth.uga.edu.

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