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For the Public Health by Anthony V. Parrillo

    Tonight Show host Jay Leno proclaimed, “Now there are more overweight people in America than average-weight people. So overweight people are now average, which means you’ve met your New Year’s resolution.”
    His comment drew much laughter from the audience, since there is more than a tinge of truth associated with it. According to former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Carmona, obesity is “…the fastest growing cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States.” In Georgia, one adult in four is obese and, among children in this state, 14 percent of students in middle schools and 12 percent of those in high schools are obese.
    We know from research that physical activity is one of the key elements of living a longer, healthier, happy life.  It is a stress reliever and a mood booster, and can help a person achieve and maintain a healthy weight, and lower one’s risk for chronic disease.  Being physically active improves self-esteem and feelings of well-being; increases fitness, helps build and maintain bones, muscles, and joints, and builds muscular strength and endurance.
    Health professionals who work in schools and universities naturally understand and promote an active lifestyle.  For example, in elementary, middle, and high schools, health and phys ed classes provide students with movement skills and fitness education, and a solid foundation in current health issues.
    But Georgia’s children aren’t doing well enough in the lifestyle department.  According to the state’s Division of Public Health (DPH), 71 percent of middle-school students are vigorously active at the levels recommended, but one student in six — about 14 percent — is obese. Only 61 percent of high school students report that they engage in vigorous activity, and only 25 percent are moderately active. Nearly one high school student in eight —about 12 percent — is obese.  These levels of regular physical activity are far below the national goals set for youth in Healthy People 2010, and must be addressed in our state if there is any hope of reversing the trend.
    So … what can you — and your children — do?  If you have a busy life (who doesn’t?), how can you find the time to be more physically active? The Live Healthy Georgia campaign (www.livehealthygeorgia.org) provides the following tips to help you include more activity in your daily routine:
    - Take the stairs;
    - Put on your favorite music and dance;
    - Park farther away from your destination;
    - Get on or off the bus several blocks away;
    - Walk during breaks at work;
    - Walk your dog;
    - Walk, cycle, or jog to work, the store, or to school; and
    - Exercise while watching TV.
    The good news: there are countless opportunities to be more physically active. As the weather in our region cools, outdoor activity becomes more pleasant. In Statesboro you can saddle up for a trail ride to benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital, participate in upcoming walks to fight diabetes and cystic fibrosis, or try the Southern Spirit for Wellness Walk.
    Don’t just sit there! Get involved … and live healthy!

    Anthony V. Parrillo, PhD, CHES, is an associate professor of community health and health behavior in the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University.

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