Grant helps Augusta University change the crisis of childhood obesity

CSRA News

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – A grant has been awarded to Augusta University to look at childhood obesity. What can we do to make our kids lead healthier lives, to help them and their families down that path? Mayor Hardie Davis is a big of this endeavor and in fact; he helped make it happen and it is all going to be done through our friends in the medical community and supporter with that. The Means Report welcomes back Dr. Martha Tingen.  She’s the Associate Director of the Georgia Cancer Center, wears many hats. She’s also the Lender Endowed Share Holder in pediatrics there at MCG at AU.

Brad Means: Dr. Tingen, thank you for all you are doing and most importantly, thank you for sparing your time during this unusual time in our lives. I hope you’re well.

Dr. Martha Tingen: I’m doing great and I’m grateful for all the many things that we have. I’m thankful our family’s well, healthy currently and this is quite a different time than I’ve ever known in my lifetime. We’re just trying to get resources to people that need them and early diagnosis and treatment. I appreciate you having me on.

Brad Means: Absolutely. You all are leading the way over there. Leading the way in our nation in so many regards. Let me ask you about childhood obesity. I want to talk about the grant in a moment, $120,000. It’s quite significant, but let’s look at the issue itself. How do you know, how do you define if a child is obese?

Dr. Martha Tingen: Well, the CDC gives out great metrics for that. Basically, it’s based on body mass index and they qualify people either as overweight or obesity based on what their BMI is and I think what’s critical for people to understand about our particular county that we’ll be conducting this with in collaboration with the mayor’s office, who was the real impetus behind this, and the Augusta Partnership for Children, is across our nation in the best counties there are for obesity, there about the national average is 26%. Georgia is about 30% of us are obese and in Richmond County, 32% obese. Another factor that often contributes greatly to obesity that’s real important Brad, is the children that live in poverty. Our national poverty rate is 11%, whereas the state of Georgia’s 22 and bad news for us, Richmond County’s 35%.

Brad Means: You know, you’ve called this a public health crisis and that really caught my eye when you refer to this as such because we do hear the word crisis used a lot these days. Can you grow out of childhood obesity or does there always need to be some sort of clinical intervention?

Dr. Martha Tingen: There are very few people that grow out of childhood obesity. We have studies now in the literature that show if mothers gained excess weight during their pregnancy and have a very obese baby, often times those children already have higher levels of inflammation in their body, which predisposes them to other diseases. The other thing is the more you are obese, the longer duration as a newborn and as a child and a toddler and all the way up to five or six years of age it is highly predictive that you will be an obese adult. Obesity is linked to 13 cancers. That’s a lot and the link is pretty strong. It also sets people up for diabetes, which there’s all kinds of unfortunate ramifications. Also contributes to hypertension, which is a major challenge among many people. So we are thrilled to be doing this and we believe the younger you can start with a family, we think parents should be role models and have great influence on their children in many ways, in many positive ways, and so we are thrilled to be doing this.

Brad Means: Yeah, I think it’s just amazing. So you go back to January when times were normal. You have the US Conference of Mayors meeting. You have the American Beverage Foundation for a Healthy America on hand to award $120,000 by way of a grant. It goes to a small town, a medium-sized town, and a large town. And Augusta, Georgia gets the grant for the medium-sized town and allows you, Dr. Tingen, and your team to set up Augusta’s Fit Families to carry out some of the missions that you’ve already mentioned so far. 75 families get to take part. Before things got kind of sideways, were you able to line up your 75 families, or do we have to wait?

Dr. Martha Tingen: We already have a list, we’ll be going to daycare centers, faith-based mothers day out facilities, anybody that accepts children from birth through five years of age. And we will be recruiting their primary care givers, whether that’s their mother, their grandfather, their grandmother, their father, whoever that may be, an aunt, or whoever, and we have those sites identified. We’ve already been in one of them. And of course right now, we’re majorly going by what we think are very important CDC requirements, the social distancing, so we have not at yet recruited any of these 75 families. But I know what’s going to happen. I’m going to work with Mayor Hardie Davis on this and we’re going to get additional funds because more than 75 families are going to want to be in this.

Brad Means: It’s definitely going to happen and we know that we just have to be patient. What’s it going to look like, first of all, when it comes to diet? Are you going to try to get into the households of these families and change the way they eat?

Dr. Martha Tingen: So what we’re going to do is we’re going to recruit families. Again, they need to have a child five years of age or under, and they will attend four educational sessions with us. Those educational sessions will really stress the importance of a couple of things related to health literacy of actually consuming foods. So I’m sure a lot of your guests today, as well as you, are familiar with the word food insecurity. For my life, for your life, we have the luxury often of going to any fresh market we want, any great restaurant, but a lot of people don’t have that. They have to go to the 7/11 and decide which can of green beans they’re going to buy. So we’re going to talk about, when you look on the back of a can of green beans, is the sodium content 980 milligrams, which is really high, or can you pick a better choice that might only be 200 milligrams of sodium for that day? Sodium, of course, being salt. We’re going to do things like that. We’re going to stress to children that we really want them, and the families, we want them to prepare foods that are the colors of the rainbow. That’s something children can grasp. And so we have outstanding nutritionists involved with us on this and we also are involving our pediatricians at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia in the Department of Pediatrics because we want families, parents and guardians, to hear from the pediatricians that deal with this on a day by day basis as they see children often having illnesses related to childhood obesity.

Brad Means: Dr. Tingen, let me jump in real quick if I may. I don’t want to run out of time with you but I want to ask you two important questions. Diet, certainly at the forefront here, what about exercise? Will you be able to encourage the families, and especially those children, to exercise, if so, how?

Dr. Martha Tingen: So yes, exercise is a physical activity is what we call it and that could be a lot of fun things. I really encourage people to see the video that’s been made of this by the US Conference of Mayors because we see parents with children five years of age and younger acting with their children at a park, at a playground, dancing, doing all sorts of physical movement. If anybody’s listening today, I want them to remember one take home. You can always out eat your exercise.

Brad Means: Yeah, definitely.

Dr. Martha Tingen: So it’s a combination of both things so we’re going to really stress being physically active together and some ways to do that. Another key component of that, Brad, is people have to have safe places to go to do that. Whether it’s an open field, an open park, perhaps a school after it gets out, that the facility, the school, can be locked but why can’t the playground be accessible? So we are going to, everybody that’s in this program with us, we will help them do a neighborhood assessment of what resources are available to them in their community where they can safely do physical active things with their young children. And then we’re providing that information to the mayor’s office and the commissioner’s in hoping that they will add infrastructure where infrastructure’s needed for safe, physically active behaviors of parents and young children.

Brad Means: Last question, very quickly, if we have obese children, how in the world can we get in on this program? How can we sign up?

Dr. Martha Tingen: Well, I will just give you out a couple of numbers. You can always call 721-1132. That’s a fantastic research associate of ours and just mention the word Augusta Fit Families. We have developed a dynamite low-go and those three things say be active. It also says eat healthy, and we have a great apple or a peach on there for the state of Georgia, and it also says drink water. So–

Brad Means: It’s going to be, I didn’t mean to cut you off I apologize. I wanted to tell you two things. First of all, thank you. Second of all, we need to have you back for the entire 30 minutes of “The Means Report.” We’re going to get the mayor next. He’s going to talk about access to some of those community centers and playgrounds that you mentioned, as well as the cities overall role. But this deserves to be probably two “Means Reports” and your efforts are hugely appreciated, Dr. Tingen. I thank you so much, as always.

Dr. Martha Tingen: Could I make one quick comment?

Brad Means: Certainly.

Dr. Martha Tingen: So I really want to give a huge shout out to Mayor Hardie Davis. We have a wonderful collaborative relationship and he actually made a phone call to me and he said, “I really need us to go after this grant.” I said, “When’s it due?” It was due in four weeks. I said, “Mayor Hardie, you’re on my list “I never say no to so we’ll do it, “but I really don’t like a short timeline like that “’cause I’m so thorough and a little OCD “when it comes to writing a grant.” And so Brad, we were the only middle-sized city to receive this award across the nation.

Brad Means: Yeah, it’s incredible, and I congratulate you. That’s quite a turn around, writing grants is not easy and it’s not brief, usually. Dr. Martha Tingen, thank you for everything. Best of luck. We’ll talk soon, you stay well.

Dr. Martha Tingen: Great, thank you so much.

Brad Means: Absolutely.

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