For Immediate Release:
March 30, 2005
10:00 a.m.
Frank Conte, Communications
617-573-8050; 8750

Fat chance: Proposed legislation to cost Maine over $57 million while providing little impact on obesity

BOSTON - A study released today by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University (BHI) finds that a legislative package intended to reduce obesity rates in Maine would cost $57 to $58 million in the first year of implementation. Despite this hefty price tag, there is no guarantee that the legislation would reduce obesity rates.

The legislation was filed in January 2005 to implement the recommendations of the Commission to Study Public Health, a panel established to examine the causes of obesity and to identify methods for decreasing obesity-related health care costs. The Commission recommended a number of measures including bans on advertising directed at children and steps to provide "body mass" assessments and increased physical activity in public schools.

The BHI report indicates that the proposal to increase physical activity requirements for public school students offers the best hope for reducing obesity on the part of Maine's school children. On average, over the first year of implementation, and given no change in any of the other factors affecting weight, this increased spending would provide one pound of weight loss every 3.5 to 17 weeks for each public school child in Maine

However, the additional physical education teachers required to implement this proposal would cost $54 million per year - 93% - 95% of the cost of the entire legislative package. And there is no guarantee that Maine public school children, once required to spend more time in physical education, would not increase the number of calories consumed or decrease other forms of physical activity. Simply spending more on physical education does not constitute a comprehensive weight-loss plan.

The study finds that banning television advertising of "unhealthy" foods and beverages directed toward children would also be ineffective for reducing obesity. The costs of such a ban would be borne exclusively by Maine's television broadcasters and advertisers.

The plan to provide Body Mass Index (BMI) assessments for public school children, post nutritional information on menus and menu boards, and construct alternative roadways would cost less than $5 million dollars combined. However, these proposals would provide only a small and uncertain improvement in Maine's obesity rates.

Obesity occurs when an individual retains an excessively high amount of body fat or adipose tissue, relative to lean body mass. As an extreme form of being overweight, obesity can pose serious health problems for those individuals afflicted.

The number of Americans considered obese has surged over the past few decades, prompting the Surgeon General to declare, "Overweight and obesity have reached nationwide epidemic proportions." Currently, Maine has the highest obesity rate in New England: 59% of adults are overweight or obese, and 15% of youth are overweight. Subsequently, in 2003, Maine spent $273 per person on obesity-related costs; this is the 17th highest amount in the U.S.

The BHI study suggests that the solution to Maine's obesity problem lies with self-discipline on the part of its residents rather than a costly legislative program that cannot guarantee results.

The report, The Costs and Benefits of Implementing Proposed Legislation to Curb Obesity in Maine, is available at

Posted on 3/30/05 12:19 PM