Gaining and losing weight to become healthier depend, at the most basic level, on what and how much we eat, and how often we are physically active.
Because those factors reflect individual choices, health educators and policy-makers have focused largely on individual behaviors.
Recent research, however, shows that where we live, the jobs we hold, the money we make, and the friends and family we have all play a part in the rising rates of obesity.
Approximately 60 percent of adult Georgians are obese and studies show that 66 percent of U.S. adults were overweight or obese in 2003 and 2004.
According to an article published in Epidemiologic Reviews in June 2007, a recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins University indicated that changes in communities that take effect because of changing social and economic values are needed before real decreases in the obesity epidemic can be made.
According to the article, "there is no question that we have made enormous progress in understanding obesity".including social and individual behaviors and the role of living and working conditions in which we find ourselves.
These findings are key to making a difference in the obesity epidemic.
For example, surveys have shown that adult Georgians with a safe and convenient place to walk are more likely to engage in regular activity (42 percent) than those with no place to walk (27 percent).
Policy leaders need to take all these factors into account.
That’s exactly what Georgia has done with its Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative (NUT&PA).
The plan was developed by DHR with input from the Take Charge of Your Health Georgia task force that included citizens representing different communities, organizations and interest groups from around the state.
The task force considered the importance of relationships that exist between individuals and their environment when looking at various reasons for being active and eating healthy.
The factors, or five levels of influence, are used to look at each level as appropriate.
The individual factors includes awareness and knowledge; the interpersonal factor includes family, friends and peers; organizational factors include policies, the environment, and informal structures within organizations; community factors exist formally or informally among individuals, groups, and organizations; and societal factors include state, and federal government policies and laws that regulate or support healthy actions and practices.
Naturally, looking at various levels is more effective than a single-level approach.
According to the Johns Hopkins University study, "political leaders still tend to regard obesity as a disorder of individual behavior, rather than highly conditioned by" the living and working conditions already in the environment."
The environment includes whether or not there are sidewalks, traffic, access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and so forth.
"This perception must change in order to recognize that the threat of obesity and its related problems is already affecting the future of young generations."
It is essential for state and local governments to develop city, county policies and ordinances that among other things require safe, accessible sidewalks, bike paths and recreation facilities.
All Georgians need to take responsibility for their health. DHR and partners put the Live Healthy Georgia campaign, an integral part of NUT&PA, into place to help Georgians with information about simple ways to live healthier.
For more information about the Nutrition and Physical Activity Plan visit http://health.state.ga.us/nutandpa/.
Stuart Brown, M.D, director.
Division of Public Health