Maine’s healthcare costs put a burden on families and small businesses alike. While our economy lags, healthcare costs have risen. One significant contributor to these costs is the obesity epidemic that plagues our state. According to a recent study by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Maine is on course to have an obesity rate of greater than 55 percent in twenty years. Currently, more than half of Maine’s population is overweight or obese.??Aside from the health risk, this has a real cost. A recent report from the Maine Economic Growth Council and Maine Development Foundation notes that annually this amounts to $767 million in medical expenses to the state and productivity losses of $2 billion. Maine spends 22.4 percent of its GDP each year on medical expenses which is significantly higher than any other New England state. Add to that, Maine’s healthcare costs have continued to rise. If we can encourage people to be healthy, eat nutritionally, and exercise then we can, in turn, lower the cost of healthcare for Mainers.??Improving the fitness of Mainers not only benefits us all by lowering the cost of healthcare, it also improves the quality of life of for those who would otherwise suffer from chronic illnesses such as high cholesterol, congestive heart failure, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. To prevent such complications, we must ensure our youth have the knowledge, tools, and resources to make good decisions about their health and how they nourish their bodies.??A particularly scary fact is that the rates of overweight and obesity is increasing among Maine high school students. Unfortunately, knowing that certain foods and beverages are not good for us does not always deter us from consuming them. Children and adolescents are particularly prone to eating what tastes good, rather than what is healthy. That is why it is important to ensure our schools provide as many good tasting, healthy foods as possible. Additionally, it is important that children’s health is not compromised for reward or punishment. That is why I am sponsoring a bill which will prohibit school staff from using food as a reward or punishment in school and also require that students have access to at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.??I believe this bill will be an important first step in helping children shape good food and exercise habits. If we do not take measures to curb current trends, a University of Maine study predicts our state will spend $1.2 billion in healthcare costs exclusively on complications from childhood obesity.??This is not a new issue in Maine, and there are many successful programs in our schools. It is our responsibility to make sure our children live healthy and successful lives and that they have a bright economic future. That means working together to reduce the cost of health care for Maine families, and making it as easy as possible to make the healthier choice.

State Sen. Rebecca Millett serves Senate District 7, which includes Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, and part of Scarborough. She lives in Cape Elizabeth.

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