MACHIAS, Maine — Washington County commissioners’ chairman Chris Gardner got into the spirit of the We Can! nutritional and exercise program last week when he attempted to use a Hula-Hoop during a commissioners’ meeting.
We Can! — Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity & Nutrition — is a national movement designed to give parents, caregivers and entire communities a way to help children 8 to 13 years old stay at a proper weight.
Washington County commissioners signed a proclamation last week that designates the county as the first in Maine to adopt the We Can! philosophy.
According to Eleody Libby of Washington County: One Community, parents and caregivers are the primary influences on children in the 8 to 13 age group.
“The We Can! national education program provides them with tools, fun activities and more to encourage healthy eating, increased physical activity and reduced time sitting in front of the screen — television or computer,” Libby said.
In signing the proclamation, the county commissioners recognize that obesity is quickly becoming an issue that affects quality of life for Washington County residents.
Libby provided some compelling statistics:
• From 1976 to 2006 the prevalence of overweight children increased from 6.5 percent to 18.8 percent for children ages 6-11.
• Approximately 80 percent of children who are overweight will be obese adults.
• Obese children and adolescents are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, than are other children and adolescents.
• Obesity in the United States now carries the hefty price tag of $147 billion per year in direct medical costs, more than 9 percent of all medical spending.
• In 2009, Mainers paid $3 billion in direct medical costs related to obesity.
Libby said that obesity was identified by Washington County: One Community in 2009 as a target.
The organization, the commissioners and many partners are hosting child and parent educational sessions, urging businesses to promote more healthful eating and increased activity to employees, coordinating physical activities for families and youth, working with restaurants to provide healthful choices for children, promoting local summer camps for exercise and outdoor activities and setting up after-school programming.
Libby said family fun days, hiking walks for families, opening gymnasiums for public use and providing cooking and nutrition classes all are being planned.
The following agencies and businesses are working with Washington County: One Community and the county commissioners on this venture: Down East Community Hospital, Calais Regional Hospital, Harrington Family Health Center, Regional Medical Center at Lubec, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Milbridge Medical Center, Women’s Health Resource Library, Washington County Food and Fuel Alliance, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Machias Savings Bank, St. Croix Valley Healthy Communities, Curves of Calais, Venus and Apollo Fitness Center, Pleasant Point Housing Authority, The Seacoast Mission-The Edge Program, and the University of Maine at Machias Center for Lifelong Learning.