Baldacci impressed by obesity program

Posted Oct. 13, 2010, at 8:13 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci on Wednesday learned firsthand how the innovative WOW program — the Way to Optimal Weight — at the University of Maine is helping school-age children and their families improve their eating habits, increase how much they exercise and lose weight.

He left the Cutler Health Center on campus with an understanding of what is needed to combat childhood obesity, Baldacci said in a telephone interview after the visit. The governor also headed toward Augusta with a new goal — to get agencies to help pay for the program.

“My charge is to meet with the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to see if we can replicate what we’ve done with reimbursement for certain types of home medical care,” he said.

The current funding systems don’t allow for reimbursement for health care intervention programs such as WOW outside a hospital setting, according to Baldacci.

“They have established a model people in other areas of the state will be able to look at and try to replicate,” the governor said. “But the program is under stress trying to get resources to continue.”

About 60 children between the ages of 4 and 19 are pioneering the WOW program, which is administered by Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Participants undergo a comprehensive medical evaluation, receive psychological support as needed and get age-appropriate nutritional guidance, according to an article that appeared in April in the Bangor Daily News.

The WOW program draws on the simple diet and activity recommendations of the “5-2-1-0” model, developed in Massachusetts and in wide use now in Portland-area schools and community centers. The model is also being used in a growing number of schools in Bangor and the northern part of Maine.

The 5-2-1-0 model distills reams of public health recommendations into just four succinct guidelines for improving health:

ä Eat fruits and vegetables at least five times on most days.

ä Limit nonschool-related screen time (computers, television) to two hours or less daily.

ä Get one hour or more of moderate to vigorous exercise every day.

ä Consume no sugar-sweetened drinks.

Children in the WOW program also have easy access to the nearby UMaine Student Recreation and Fitness Center and the one-on-one services of a professional personal trainer.

In Maine, about 30 percent of children and teens are overweight or obese, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers in Maine are in line with national statistics, Maine CDC’s director, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, said in April, but among New England states, Maine’s rates typically are the highest.

That’s partly because there is a strong correlation between poverty and obesity, according to Mills. Maine’s lower-than-average household income means more families scramble to put food on their tables and in their bellies. It would be logical to think that low-income people eat less food and that gaining weight shouldn’t be a problem, but Mills said the opposite is true.

For more information about the WOW program, call 581-4039.

On the Web: http://healthyamericans.org

www.healthymainepartnerships.org

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