Maine’s gut check: $2.13 billion a year


Usually, we’re talking about cutting the fat out of government. Now, government wants to trim the fat from us.

Obesity is costing Maine’s economy, meaning mainly its employers, $2.13 billion per year, according to a study released Tuesday.

We have no idea how such numbers are calculated. In this case, they were developed by a North Carolina-based consulting company that has done this sort of work in other states.

And while $2 billion is clearly a lot of cabbage, it no doubt understates the true cost of the problem.

First, the statistics do not include children, the elderly or Mainers covered by MaineCare or Medicare. Other research shows that the poor and the elderly tend to have higher rates of obesity than the general population. And, to a large extent, businesses and individuals in Maine pick up the tab for that medical care as well.

The statistics are even clearer: Judged by body mass index, nearly 38 percent of Maine adults are overweight, and more than 23 percent are considered obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 47 percent of Mainers are considered physically inactive.

That’s all adding up to what’s been described as an “obesity crisis.” Car seats are getting bigger to accommodate obese American kids, and airline seats are getting wider to accommodate their parents. Automakers are widening and bolstering seats and testing ways for larger and larger Americans to more easily get in and out of their cars.

On Monday, the Baldacci administration released its first biennial state health plan, which calls for a “culture of health” and urges Mainers to sign “Be Fit for Maine” contracts.

While the contracts sound a little gimmicky to us, the overall goal is clearly worthy. Over the past several decades, states, including Maine, have undertaken large-scale public education campaigns to combat teen pregnancy and smoking.

At the time those campaigns were begun, the problems seemed hopelessly out of control. Over the years, however, great strides have been made in both areas.

We’re likewise optimistic that our obesity epidemic isn’t beyond our control.

But, like smoking and teen pregnancy, fighting it will take a long-term public health commitment.

As the research shows, it’s a commitment worth making.