Twenty-one agencies ranging from municipal governments and school systems to community gardens and parks were honored Thursday for their efforts to make north Georgia healthier.
The awards were part of the Celebrate Healthy North Georgia initiative, organized by District 2 Public Health and held at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.
“This event is intended to give … the opportunity for all of you representing the 13 counties [in northeast Georgia] to celebrate, educate and communicate,” said David Westfall, health officer for the district.
“When I got involved with this project about six months ago, I was just amazed at the number of things that are going on. Many times what happens is we’re so overwhelmed by our challenges that we fail to stop and reflect on our accomplishments. So I hope today this event gives us the opportunity to do just that.”
Forsyth County agencies receiving recognition included: Cedar Hill Enrichment Center; Forsyth County school system; and the Forsyth County Parks and Recreation Department, for the Big Creek Greenway.
The Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s Healthcare Association of Forsyth County and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Forsyth also were recognized.
Those from neighboring counties receiving honors were the Dawson County school system and eight organizations based in Hall County.
The Hall groups included: Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County; Average Joe Boot Camp; City of Gainesville; Georgia Mountains Food Bank; Healthy Hall County Government Fitness Program; Healthy Beginnings—A Collaborative; Direct Medical Imaging; and Legacy Link Inc.
Prior to the awards ceremony, the event featured a presentation from James Emery and Carolyn Crump, both with the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.
They discussed the country’s ever-increasing obesity rates and possible contributing factors, including inactivity, lack of healthy foods in certain areas and an overabundance of unhealthy options.
According to Crump, the obesity epidemic costs the United States about $215 billion a year in medical and other expenses, yet anyone can play a part in turning the tide toward a healthier nation.
“Every sector of our society has a role in creating a healthier nation,” she said. “So our businesses and employers, educators, government workers, nonprofit organizations, our community-based organizations and health care professions, and I’d like to add our public safety workers.”
Crump and Emery encouraged the crowd to look into ways to help their communities become healthier. Possibilities include adding walking trails and sidewalks, encouraging more outdoor play areas for children, and finding ways to provide healthier foods such as fresh produce.
Attendees also participated in several small group breakout sessions, which addressed topics such as grant writing and funding sources, environmental planning and building resilient communities.
Nadine Wardenga, who chairs the White County Board of Health, found the event informative.
“We did learn that we definitely have a huge problem [with obesity], but finding out what the solution is to that problem is not as easy as we might think,” she said. “It starts with educating small children and then again and again with adults, so it’s not an easy lesson.”
But Wardenga noted the regional event was a good start to helping find practical solutions.
“There are lots of examples [here today] of what people are doing that’s working in their areas,” she said. “A lot of them have different walking paths or organic gardens or just different resources that you can see are working in their communities and you can take that back to your own community.”