Walk Georgia fighting obesity a step at a time

In an effort to combat obesity in the state, University of Georgia Extension’s Walk Georgia is working to equip Georgians with the knowledge and tools needed to be more physically active. Walk Georgia has reached more than 50,000 Georgians since its inception in 2008, with a goal of 100,000 over the next three years.

Georgia has one of the highest obesity rates in the nation, and the key to winning the fight against obesity statewide is local intervention. Walk Georgia, run jointly by UGA Extension and the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, is based in communities. Participants logged nearly 30,000 miles of activity during the spring 2014 session of Walk Georgia; to date, Georgians have logged about 5 million miles of physical activity through the program.

A Web-based program offered free to all Georgians, Walk Georgia participants register through the website, walkgeorgia.org, and track their physical activity data online; as they enter their activity, participants are able to virtually “walk” the state. Extension agents throughout the state plan community events, meet residents in person and provide incentives at the county level, encouraging adoption of physical activity through Walk Georgia.

“To me, the beauty of Walk Georgia is that it meets people where they are,” said Deborah Murray, associate dean for extension and outreach in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “Because it’s a community-based program, there’s something in it for everyone.”

The Walk Georgia blog, found at blog.extension.uga.edu/walkgeorgia/, supplements the online program, providing daily information ranging from recipes to website and app recommendations to information on state parks as well as health and wellness articles authored by Extension personnel. The program also maintains a presence on social media-Facebook, Twitter @WalkGa and Pinterest.

The program was previously offered at 12-week intervals in the fall and spring, but a $1 million, three-year grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation has allowed for a complete renovation of the website and the capacity for improved program offerings. Goals of this better equipped Walk Georgia include reaching 100,000 Georgians and decreasing obesity by 5 percent in all of the state’s counties over the next three years.

“Supporting Walk Georgia is another example of Coca-Cola’s commitment to help people lead active, healthy lifestyles,” said Lori George Billingsley, vice president of community relations, Coca-Cola North America. “This commitment starts with our home state of Georgia.”

Through the updated version of Walk Georgia, participants will be able to log on to the redesigned website, create a profile and track their physical activity year-round. Users can create and join groups, and customizable sessions will be available. The website will scale to mobile devices and be integrated with popular social media outlets, enabling quick registration for the program, the ability to share progress toward physical activity goals and to encourage fellow users.

Improvements to the Walk Georgia system also make it better suited for use as a worksite wellness programs for local governments, businesses and organizations. In fact, the program was introduced to Georgia’s county commissioners and city council members through a presence at Association County Commissioners of Georgia and Georgia Municipal Association conferences this summer.

Walk Georgia is also being adapted for the classroom. Schools, districts and entire systems can participate in Walk Georgia; competition between classes, grades or schools can be enabled by teachers simply logging aggregate activity data for their class. Lesson plans that go hand in hand with the Walk Georgia program will be available for use by elementary school teachers this year as well.

“Working with Walk Georgia’s task force to continually improve the program and hearing our users’ incredible success stories about their lives being changed for the better is an amazing opportunity,” said Maria Bowie, Walk Georgia program director. “Support from The Coca-Cola Foundation is opening doors and fostering partnerships on a whole new level for us.”

The new Walk Georgia website will be tested this summer, from mid-June to mid-August, with an official unveiling in September. Watch the Walk Georgia website or the Walk Georgia blog at blog.extension.uga.edu/walkgeorgia/ to stay informed about registration for the program. Program announcements can be sent directly to an email account by signing up at http://goo.gl/DAiyCx.