With nearly 65 percent of Americans either overweight or obese, the state of Maine is tired of waiting around for its residents to shape up. They are going to make fighting obesity a matter of law.

Maine lawmakers unveiled bills this month that would require large chain restaurants to display menu nutrition information and prohibit schools from selling chewing gum, candy bars and other unhealthy foods, the Portland Press Herald reported.

Obesity costs Maine nearly $1 billion per year in health costs, State Rep. Sean Faircloth, D-Bangor, told the Herald.

The state’s obesity rate is the highest in New England for the third year in a row, with nearly 20 percent of Maine’s adults considered obese. And nearly 15 percent of Maine’s youth are reported to be overweight, according to the Herald.

In a release on its Web site, the Center for Science in the Public Interest “heralded the legislation as the nation’s first comprehensive anti-obesity effort and a model that should be replicated in other states and in Congress.”

“This type of comprehensive legislation is exactly what states should be doing to reverse the obesity epidemic,” Margo Wootan, CSPI’s director of nutrition policy, said in the release. “The Maine legislation will make it easier for people to eat well, be physically active, and maintain a healthy weight. Maine’s figured out that doing nothing about obesity is a prohibitively expensive option.”

The Main obesity package also includes a “state constitutional amendment that would provide funding for walking trails, bike lanes and cross-country ski trails,” according to USATODAY.com.

The National Soft Drink Association told USATODAY.com that since 2001 it has tracked 76 proposed bills in 28 states that have attempted to restrict or ban the sale of carbonated drinks in schools.

“Only one in California passed, but it has not been enacted because the law also has requirements for school lunch funding that haven’t been fulfilled,” USATODAY.com reported.

California, Minnesota, Washington and New York are working on similar bills that would limit the amount of unhealthy foods available in schools or require restaurants to provide nutritional information to patrons.

Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.

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