AUGUSTA — A national report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this last week shows that Maine is a leader when it comes to improving access to healthy foods for its children — one piece of the puzzle in fighting childhood obesity — but that there is still more work to be done.
The 2011 Children’s Food Environment State Indicator Report notes that Maine is above the national averages when it comes to providing access to healthy foods in Maine communities.
“States and communities are uniquely positioned to help improve the food environment for children where they live, play, and learn,” said William Dietz, M.D., Ph.D., director of CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. “If we hope to reverse the trend of childhood obesity, we need to work together at the local, state, and national level to create environments that support healthy eating for children.”
The report looked closely at each state to understand the types of foods most accessible to children and their families on a daily basis in their communities. It reviewed the variety of food retailers in each state and categorized them into two different groups: food retailers that typically sell healthier foods such as supermarkets, supercenters and produce stores and those retailers that are less likely to sell healthy food such as fast-food restaurants and convenience stores.
Maine and Montana were among the higher scoring states with a score of 15 and 16 respectively, compared to the national average of 10. Lower scoring states were Rhode Island (5) and the District of Columbia (4). Since the scoring is based on a 100-point scale, it is clear that all states need to improve accessibility to healthier foods.
The CDC report also showed that as of December 2008, Maine had enacted the state child care licensure regulation of limiting television and video viewing in all child care facilities. The CDC had three recommended regulations and only one state had enacted all three.
In the school foods category, Maine outperformed the national average with respect to the number of middle and high schools that do not allow students to purchase less healthy foods from vending machines and school stores. About 66 percent of Maine schools prohibit this practice as opposed to a national average of 49 percent. Maine also has a higher rate of middle and high schools that do not offer sugar drinks (44 percent vs. the national average of 36 percent).
“It is wonderful to see that our state is performing better than most of the nation when it comes to access to healthy foods for our children,” said Sheila Pinette, Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Our progress in this area is due to the commitment, hard work and collaboration of Maine people, local efforts such as Communities Putting Prevention to Work and Healthy Maine Partnerships, and others who partner with the Maine CDC, like the Maine Nutrition Network and the Maine-Harvard Prevention Research Center. There is still much to be done, however, as one out of , if we are to reduce childhood obesity rates in Maine — one out of every three of our children is currently overweight or obese.”
Maine continued efforts in improving access to healthier foods includes creating positive food and physical activity environments in child care settings, growing already thriving farm-to-school programs in schools and making strides to meet the USDA definition of a healthier school environment in all of Maine’s schools.
The Children’s Food Environment State Indicator Report compiles data from a variety of sources, including Preventing Obesity in the Child Care Setting: Evaluating State Regulations and CDC’s School Health Profiles. To view the full CDC report visit www.cdc.gov/obesity.