Grant boosts battle on obesity

Posted Dec. 06, 2010, at 2:54 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 10, 2010, at 2:56 p.m.
Mark Biscone, executive director of Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast, receives a $50,000 check for the first year of a three-year grant from MaineHealth for the 5-2-1-0 program. Presenting the check is Deb Deatrick, vice president of Community Health for MaineHealth.
Mark Biscone, executive director of Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast, receives a $50,000 check for the first year of a three-year grant from MaineHealth for the 5-2-1-0 program. Presenting the check is Deb Deatrick, vice president of Community Health for MaineHealth.

BELFAST — Waldo County General Hospital has been awarded a $50,000 grant for each of the next three years to help expand the 5-2-1-0 Let’s Go! program. It is a program championed by Dr. Tori Rogers of MaineHealth to help fight the epidemic of childhood obesity.

During the past 30 years, the number of overweight children ages 6 to 11 has nearly tripled. Rogers, who spoke Nov. 15 at the hospital’s annual advisory committee meeting, said approximately 30 percent of the children she sees in her pediatric practice in Saco are carrying extra weight. Statistics for Waldo County show that 36 percent of the students in RSU 20 are overweight or obese, and that figure jumps to 47 percent in RSU 3. For the first time, this generation is expected to have a shorter life expectancy than its parents.

5-2-1-0 stands for five servings of fruits and vegetables per day; no more than two hours of recreational screen time; at least one hour of physical activity per day and zero soda or sugary drinks. She said one of the most overlooked parts of these may be the zero soda and sugary drinks. Many fruit “juices” have less than 5 percent juice and lots of sugar, while even 100 percent apple juice has nearly 7 teaspoons of sugar. A raw apple has less than half that amount, and it comes with beneficial fiber.

The Let’s Go! portion of the program, which was piloted in the Portland area, also seeks to increase healthy eating and physical activity for youth and their families and works in six areas — health care, schools, after school, children, workplace and communities.

Rogers said the obesity epidemic reached this point through a number of factors, including low-cost food with more calories; increased portion sizes; increased soda and sugary drink container sizes; more dining out for working families; more time spent in front of the television and computer; cuts to recess and physical activity time in schools; and the fact that many communities are not made for walking or more homes are out of walking distance of essential services.

Rogers said the epidemic is costing billions in increased healthcare costs and even in national security. She said the No. 1 one reason applicants fail to qualify for the military is obesity.

She said what works to help bring about change is focusing on prevention, creating walk-able communities, giving consistent messages about obesity, and policy changes — “small steps” that will add up, she said.

Among the changes that have been made at Waldo County General Hospital are removing soda and unhealthy snacks from vending machines, offering fresh fruit and a salad bar at all meals, purchasing local foods to a practical extent and offering programs such as Journey to Health, which offers tips and classes to help community members get and stay healthy. Doctors at the hospital attended training on 5-2-1-0 last spring and a number of them committed to providing information about the program to their patients and family members.

While the 5-2-1-0 Let’s Go! program in this area has been focusing on children for the past few years, the current effort is meant to expand 5-2-1-0 to adults in workplaces and the community. To help with that, the hospital recently hired Hester Kohl as its 5-2-1-0 coordinator. Her primary responsibilities will be to oversee community health and wellness programs.

Kohl, who is a health educator, plans to develop a list of community resources already in place to help with healthy eating and fun ways to exercise. She also will provide counseling and education, along with referral services, to encourage healthy choices.

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