A report out from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week shows that Maine is doing better than the nation at 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 examine community food environments in order to understand the types of foods most accessible to children and their families on a daily basis. The report looked at 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 at 5 followed by the District of Columbia at a score of 4. A score of 100 would mean all food retailers in a community provide access to healthy foods. It is clear all states need to improve accessibility to healthier foods, but the ideal target score for a state was not given in the report.
The CDC report also shows that as of December 2008, Maine had enacted one of the state child care licensure regulations of three listed in the report as important indicators: limiting screen time (television and video) for all child care facilities. Only one state had enacted all of the regulations, while 13 states and the District of Columbia had enacted none.
Additionally, for the school foods indicator 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 outside the usual school lunch (such as in vending machines and school stores). About 66% of Maine schools do not allow the purchase of less healthy foods; above the national average of 49%. Maine also has more middle and high schools that do not offer sugar drinks — 44% don’t offer sugar drinks compared to the national average of only 36% that don’t.
“It is wonderful to see that our state is performing better than most of the nation to improve access to healthy foods for our children,” said Stephen Sears, M.D., MPH, Acting Director, Maine CDC. “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 such as the Maine Nutrition Network and the Maine-Harvard Prevention Research Center. However, there is still much to be done if we are to reduce childhood obesity rates in Maine — one out of every three of our children is currently overweight or obese.”
Maine is currently working in many ways to improve access to healthier foods for all residents, particularly children. These efforts include 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.