Maryland's obesity plan

May 04, 2006

Over the years, being fat has been treated more as a moral dilemma - a failure of self-control - than as a disease.

That is changing now, as 28 states, including Maryland, implement plans developed with grants from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

There is no doubt that obesity is a problem in this state. Our concern is that this program will become an unfunded mandate for local government, including local school systems.

That said, something must be done. CDC figures say that 59 percent of Maryland's adults are overweight or obese and that 29 percent of all children of low-income families are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight.


This isn't just a problem for the people who are at greater risk of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma. All citizens who support the public health system have a stake in preventing obesity, which makes people more susceptible to those conditions.

Introduced Wednesday by Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Maryland's plan would encourage mother to breast-feed, which research has found keeps mothers and their babies from becoming obese.

Schools would also be required to develop and put in place wellness policies by June of this year. The state also would need to ensure that health-care professionals can educate patients on how to avoid becoming obese.

But rather than adding another mandate to the school systems, why not give parents and other adults a real incentive to keep themselves and their children fit?

Here's one possibility: Offer a tax credit to healthy families, who will save the state, medical insurers and citizens the cost of caring for avoidable illnesses.

Family physicians or local health departments could weigh families, then sign a form certifying the subjects' weight.

It might not work, but over the years we have advocated rewarding citizens who do the right thing, as opposed to assuming from the start that they won't.

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