More than half of Maine adults will be obese by 2030, report projects

Posted Sept. 18, 2012, at 10:09 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 18, 2012, at 5:09 p.m.

More than half of all adults in the state will be obese by 2030 if Mainers continue packing on the pounds at current rates, according to a national report released Tuesday.

The adult obesity rate in Maine is on course to reach 55.2 percent in 20 years, according to the annual “F as in Fat” report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report predicts that every state in the nation will have an obesity rate topping 44 percent by 2030, with Mississippi tipping the scales at 66.7 percent and Colorado at the thinner end with 44.8 percent of all adults labeled obese.

Adults are considered obese if their body mass index, a body fat calculation based on individual weight and height, totals 30 or higher.

The report’s projections aren’t surprising given the prevalence of obesity in Maine and across the country, but serve as a call to action, said Tina Pettingill, executive director of the Maine Public Health Association.

“It’s devastating,” she said. “It will devastate our economy and the people of Maine. We have to do something about this.”

Today, Maine is tied with North Dakota at 25th in the nation with an adult obesity rate of 27.8 percent, according to 2011 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1995, 14.3 percent of Mainers were obese.

Over the next 20 years, obesity is on track to contribute to 192,680 new cases of Type 2 diabetes, 462,648 new cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, 405,204 new cases of hypertension, 248,703 new cases of arthritis, and 65,041 new cases of obesity-related cancer in Maine, the report found.

The analysis was commissioned by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and conducted by the National Heart Forum. Its projections are based on a peer-reviewed model published last year in the medical journal The Lancet and an annual phone survey conducted by the U.S. CDC and state health departments.

As Mainers gain more weight over the next 20 years, state health care costs related to obesity are expected to climb more than 19 percent, according to the report. That would mark the 12th-highest increase among all states.

Nationally, medical costs from treating preventable diseases related to obesity are projected to rise by $48 billion to $66 billion per year by 2030, according to the report.

The report wasn’t all bad news. If Maine can reduce the average body mass index of its residents by 5 percent by 2030, the state could save $2.8 billion in health care costs over the next 20 years, the analysis found. That would also spare more than 130,000 Mainers from developing obesity-related diseases.

For a 6-foot-tall person weighing 200 pounds, a 5 percent drop in body mass index would roughly amount to losing 10 pounds.

Maine has made progress in reducing rates of heart disease and stroke, but those numbers could rebound if the state doesn’t get a handle on obesity, said Brenda Vitali, communications director for the American Heart Association in Maine.

“We still have a long way to go,” she said.

Vitali and Pettingill both pointed to recent state budget cuts that diverted $2.7 million from the Fund for a Healthy Maine as a step back in the fight against obesity. The fund allocates money from the landmark 1998 tobacco settlement for smoking and substance abuse prevention programs and a variety of health initiatives, including obesity prevention.

The cuts led to the elimination of school health coordinators in districts across the state and affected funding at the state’s 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships.

Pettingill cited a 2008 report that found the state could save $7.50 in health costs within five years for every dollar Maine invests in health prevention, the highest return on investment of any state in the country.

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