Federal relief funds awarded to Maine for public health init
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on Feb. 5 that they will be granting Maine $935,530 as part of a $119 million nationwide campaign. The department hopes to "support public health efforts to reduce obesity, increase physical activity, improve nutrition and decrease smoking--the four most important actions for combating chronic diseases and promoting health," an HHS spokesperson said in a press release. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has made such funding possible.
Maine plans to use $431,646 of the funds on media campaigns that will highlight the importance of physical activity, as well as healthy food and beverage choices. The grant will also help the state create better options for healthy food and safer places to exercise. The remaining $503,884 will be dedicated towards tobacco cessation efforts, such as help-lines and media that brings attention to the dangers of smoking.
"Our goal through these statewide projects is to help make healthy choices the easier choices for all Americans, no matter where they live," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on the department's website. "When we improve obesity-related and tobacco policies, we make it that much easier for people to eat right, to get more physical activity and to avoid or stop smoking."
According to a 2007 study conducted by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity rate in Maine has risen more than 100 percent from 12 percent of Mainers in 1990 to 26 percent in 2006. Combining the overall number of obese and overweight individuals, 59 percent of Mainers fell into either category. High school students were a particularly vulnerable group, as approximately 25 percent were found to be overweight.
The obesity in Maine is of particular concern because it can lead to more serious health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and type two diabetes, said Dora Mills, the state's public health director. According to the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Maine has the highest obesity rate of any New England state, ranking thirty-fifth in the nation in a 2009 statistical review. Mills attributes these results to Maine's rural landscape, which is less conducive to walking. Although there may not be many sidewalks for walking in the rural areas of the state, physical exercise is still vital to a wholesome lifestyle. This new HHS funding will bring increased awareness to the health complications behind obesity. Mills hopes that through media campaigns, Mainers will be encouraged to watch their weight.
Although adult and youth smoking has decreased in recent years, the Partnership for a Tobacco-Free Maine reports that 21 percent of Maine adults, 16.2 percent of high school students and seven percent of middle school students still smoke. The Partnership notes, "Maine is one of three states leading the country [in] prevention programs." This money will help them continue many of their existing programs.
Given Maine's limited availability of funds for public health initiatives, Congressman Mike Michaud was enthusiastic about the federal grant. "I am pleased that this funding was approved," he said in a press release. "It will increase the state's public health resources at a time when local and state budgets are growing tighter and tighter."