March 13, 2012

Portland forges trail away from obesity

New exercise stations are part of the city's two-year public health campaign.

By Dennis Hoey
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — City workers hooked up a rope ladder along Back Cove on Monday, putting one of the finishing touches on a two-year effort aimed at preventing obesity.

click image to enlarge

Shane Dreibholz, left, and Nate Ellis install a rope ladder on Monday at Back Cove that is among exercise stations being built across Portland. The fitness trails and other anti-obesity efforts were funded by a federal grant to the city.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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The rope ladder, part of an obstacle course, is among several exercise stations that have been, or will be, erected along "fitness trails" across the city before the obesity campaign ends this week.

"The fitness trails are only one small piece of a greater effort," said Bethany Sanborn, program manager for the city's Chronic Disease Prevention Program. "We have this mantra: The healthy choice should be the easy choice."

In March 2010, the city announced it had received a $1.8 million grant through the federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act to fund obesity prevention efforts.

At the time, city officials said that nearly 58 percent of the adult population in Cumberland County were obese or overweight.

Since receiving the grant, the city has encouraged several Portland restaurants to adopt menu labeling, installed salad bars in all public schools and developed a comprehensive bike and pedestrian plan.

A draft of that plan will be presented to the public Wednesday night.

It will propose a vision for biking and walking in Portland, including more than 20 miles of neighborhood byways.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Merrill Auditorium Rehearsal Hall.

Nicole Clegg, the city's spokeswoman, said the city is considering holding a ceremony next week to note some of the things accomplished with the federal grant.

She said some of the money paid for a nutritionist to work with several restaurants on relabeling their menus.

Now, menus at places including DiMillo's, Sebago Brewing and the Spartan Grill inform diners how many calories are in each food item.

Funds from the grant were also used to pay for redesigning each participating restaurant's menu.

"Studies have shown that most diners are off by 600 calories if they have to guess," Clegg said.

Sanborn said obesity is a widespread problem.

"It's an epidemic," she said. "But we know that eating healthy and being active are ways to prevent obesity."

She said that salad bars were in only about half of Portland's schools two years ago. Now, all of the schools offer salad bars.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:


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