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DPH Reviews Progress, Sets Initiatives for New Year

January 6, 2014

2013 was a year of considerable progress for public health in Georgia, particularly on some of the key priorities identified by the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH). But the state still faces many challenges for the new year. As 2014 begins, DPH looks back at the year gone by to evaluate our progress while looking forward to see where we need to go next.

Here are four of DPH’s bests from 2013:

Premature birth rate drops. Fewer Georgia babies were born prematurely than at any time in the past. According to the March of Dimes, the state’s preterm birth rate fell from 13.8 percent in 2010 to 12.7 percent in 2012, although DPH data suggest that the rate is even lower. The drop led the March of Dimes to give Georgia its first-ever passing grade on the Prematurity Report Card, released in November.

Keeping children safe with immunizations. According to the Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions and Services (GRITS), the number of Georgia 2-year-olds who were up-to-date on lifesaving vaccinations increased by more than 34,000. Also, more than 10,000 facilities in the GRITS system reported complete vaccination records. The number of Georgia schools offering flu vaccines through the school-based flu program also increased in 2013.

SHAPE gets more kids moving. Georgia SHAPE, Gov. Nathan Deal’s anti-obesity program for children, has taken off around the state. In 2013, SHAPE launched its Power Up for 30 initiative, a voluntary program encouraging schools to add in 30 extra minutes of physical activity for students before, during or after the school day. So far 223 schools have pledged to start the program for their students. The state also saw signs that more children are reaching a healthier weight. The 2013 results of the Fitnessgram, a tool that evaluates health-related fitness, showed a 2 percent improvement in the BMI healthy fitness zone from 2012.

More Georgians kicking the habit. In 2011, about 21 percent of Georgia adults smoked cigarettes, a habit that kills about 10,000 Georgians every year, according to DPH data. Georgia public health is committed to helping current smokers kick their habits, and to keep others from starting tobacco in the first place. As of 2013, 96 school districts have adopted tobacco-free policies on their campuses, which not only promotes quitting in youth but in adults as well. For current smokers age 13 and older who want help quitting, the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line offers free support and counseling. From November 2012 to October 2013, the Quit Line helped nearly 15,000 callers make an attempt to quit and distributed nearly 4,400 doses of nicotine replacement therapy.

As the new year gets underway, DPH will expand its focus to new health priorities and concerns impacting Georgia. Here are some of DPH’s key initiatives for 2014:

Asthma: About 8 percent of adults and 9 percent of children in Georgia suffer from this chronic condition, according to the most recent data. In 2010, asthma caused nearly 53,000 emergency room visits and more than 10,000 hospitalizations. DPH will focus on implementing the Strategic Plan for Addressing Asthma in Georgia, including improving partnerships, prevention, quality care, delivery system enhancements, education, communication, environmental control surveillance and evaluation.

Prescription drug abuse: Abuse of painkillers and other prescription drugs has skyrocketed in the U.S. in recent years, and Georgia is no exception to the trend. From 2008-2009, about 360,000 Georgians reported using pain relievers non-medically, 47 percent of whom were age 25 and younger. Since 2009, the number of overdose-related deaths in Georgia compared to the those from motor vehicle crashes only differed by about 200 deaths per year. DPH will continue discussions with legislators, state leaders, public and private organizations and prescription drug abuse experts to expand and strengthen prevention strategies.

Telehealth:  According to the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce, 52 percent of Georgia's physicians are located in five areas that serve just 38 percent of the state's population. Telehealth is one way DPH hopes to increase access to health care throughout the state, using two-way, real-time video conferencing technology to connect patients with health care providers no matter where they live. Georgia already has several promising, highly successful telehealth programs, including those that deliver care for high-risk pregnancies, oral health, HIV, nutritional counseling and connecting patients with some of the state’s best specialists. As of December, all 159 counties were connected to the statewide telehealth network; in 2014, DPH hopes to develop this asset to improve health and health care in Georgia.