Maine needs to shake a leg.

This not-so-stunning revelation comes to us this week courtesy of Bloomberg’s Businessweek, which compiled data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources to identify the 20 laziest states in the nation.

Laziest, the magazine reported, as in “a measure of leisure time spent doing sedentary activities compared with activities that require more physical effort.”

Maine, alas, comes in 16th. Not as bad as Louisiana, Mississippi or Arkansas, which score first, second and third, respectively. But far behind the stalwart citizens of North Dakota, christened the “least inactive” state by Businessweek.

So just how sedentary are we?

Well, for starters, we spend eight hours and 50 minutes of each day sleeping (46 drowsy minutes longer than North Dakotans). We spend two hours and 34 minutes watching TV, 14 minutes “relaxing and thinking” and 41 minutes socializing.

We’re not even as industrious as we may think — when averaged over the entire population from age 15 on up, Mainers spend a mere three hours and 22 minutes working each day. (North Dakotans average just over five hours.)

The list lumbers on: We rank second nationally in the time we spend playing cards and board games. We’re unsurpassed in how much time we spend on our computer keyboards surfing the Internet “for leisure.” And when it comes to youthful vigor, we’re the oldest state in the nation with a median age of 41.5.

All of which raises a perennially confounding question: What’s it going to take to get Maine off its duff?

“It’s not easy,” conceded Joan Ingram, executive director of the city-run program Healthy Portland, in an interview Tuesday. “Right now, it’s easier to not be healthy. It’s easier to eat unhealthy foods and exercise less. We just live in a society where that’s the default choice.”

Since March, Ingram has been sitting atop a $1.8 million federal stimulus grant aimed at getting people in Portland and beyond to start taking better care of themselves.

As well they should. According to Ingram, obesity-related health problems currently are the second-leading cause of death in the United States and are expected to eclipse tobacco as the nation’s leading killer in the not-too-distant future.

And with 25.8 percent of Maine’s adult population now classified as obese according to a recent study by the Trust for America’s Health, well, let’s just say it’s time to lay off the potatoes and get up off the couch.

Healthy Portland’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant, one of 44 awarded nationwide by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aims not to shame those who, for whatever reason, could stand to drop a few pounds and in the process add a few years to their lives.

Rather, Ingram said, “We need to make it easier for someone to be active.” Hence the plans for bicycle lanes on such busy thoroughfares as Congress Street and Washington Avenue, a network of bike racks throughout the city to encourage commuting by pedal, the creation of “story walks” in city parks that entice kids to take a stroll while stopping at designated stations to read the next chapter of a story, the upcoming campaign to get more kids to walk to school

Increased physical activity, however, is only half the battle. The other half — and this is where things might get sticky — is persuading people to pay more attention to what they eat.

Part of that already has been accomplished by the Maine Legislature: Effective Feb. 1, 2011, chain restaurants (those with 20 or more locations, including at least one in Maine) will be required to prominently disclose the caloric content of each item on the menu.

The new law also will require chain eateries to post a sign stating, “To maintain a healthy weight, a typical adult should consume approximately 2,000 calories per day; however, individual calorie needs may vary.”

Healthy Portland, Ingram said, wants to take that one voluntary step farther: In the coming months, a registered dietitian under contract with the city will sit down with any local restaurant owner who’s game and analyze the menu for what’s healthy and what isn’t. Ingram said the restaurant owner then would decide what, if anything, to do with that information.

There are, no doubt, a few chefs around town now reaching for their meat cleavers to protect the integrity of their favorite heavy-cream sauce.

Not to mention the Tea Partiers, who even as they read this are pounding away at their keyboards (their exercise for the day) about Big Government’s attack on our God-given, constitutional right to drive a half-mile to the nearest McDonald’s and scarf down an Angus Bacon ‘n Cheese, large fries and a Chocolate Triple Thick Shake without having to worry about how many calories we’re consuming. (That, gulp, would be 2,450.)

The painful truth, however, is far too many Mainers — and too many Americans, for that matter — are doing far too little to take care of themselves.

And the lazier and heavier they get, the more it ends up costing all of us in higher insurance premiums, Big Government health spending (the way, how many Tea Partiers are on Medicare?), lost workplace productivity and all the other costs that come with a less-than-healthy lifestyle.

Ingram recently hired Peter O’Donnell, a former Portland mayor and registered nurse, and Bruce Hyman, a bike-and-pedestrian trail planner and manager, to help turn Portland into a model of fitness and healthy nutrition. Both salaries — $44,870 for O’Donnell and $46,500 for Hyman — will be funded entirely by the $1.8 million grant.

“It’s a lot of money,” acknowledged Ingram. “But it’s showing that this is a huge priority. We can’t ignore it anymore. It’s an epidemic.”

Meaning, lazy Mainers, it’s time to get moving.


Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]