The Plain Truth

The Plain Truth
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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Maine marks new anti-obesity measures

AUGUSTA, Maine—Even as state lawmakers produced a leaner budget this year, they are still looking to trim some fat -- this time from Maine's waistlines.

It started Wednesday when lawmakers and Gov. John Baldacci marked the passage of three bills, all aimed at promoting health and combatting obesity.

The most significant new law replicates efforts nationwide that require chain restaurants to post calorie information on menus, menu boards and drive-thrus.

Baldacci hosted a signing ceremony for the measures, which also call for schools to record the heights and weights of Maine school children and encourage elementary schools to promote physical activity and physical education.

Participation in the body mass indexing project will be voluntary and data, which is to be kept confidential, will be transmitted to the Maine Center for Disease Control.

"We used to think that it was a good thing to see a child with chubby cheeks," Rep. Helen Rankin, a longtime school nutritionist, said in a statement. "But now we're talking about kindergartners who already are at risk of type II diabetes and a shortened lifespan because they are carrying too much weight."

The governor said an estimated 30 percent of youth in Maine are overweight or obese.

Baldacci, seconded by House Speaker Hannah Pingree, hailed the newly enacted pieces of legislation as important advances in public health.

According to Pingree's office, the rate of obese and overweight Maine adults has doubled and the rate among Maine children has tripled in the last 20 years.

At Wednesday's ceremony in Baldacci's office, Pingree noted that calorie posting has come up for discussion in the context of federal health care reform.

"Overweight and obesity are now overtaking tobacco as the number one threat to public health," Denise Whitley, Maine advocacy director of the American Heart Association, said in prepared remarks.

The Legislature gave final approval to the statewide menu labeling law sponsored by Pingree a week ago as this year's regular session drew toward a close.

The legislation mandates that chain restaurants with 20 or more establishments and at least one in Maine must post calorie data, effective Feb. 1, 2011.

Supporters cited similar ordinances in New York City, Seattle and Portland, Ore. They pointed to California and Massachusetts policies to begin next year. Lawmakers in Connecticut and Oregon have enacted similar legislation this year.

Maine's new law makes exceptions for salad bars and buffets, exempts movie theaters, grocery stores and hotels and does not apply to menu items that are offered for less than 90 days.

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