Maine CDC Press Release

March 12, 2004

Physical Inactivity And Poor Diet Is Climbing To The Number One Cause Of Death

Contact: Dora Anne Mills, MD, MPH
  Director, Bureau of Health
  Tel: (207) 287-3270
  TTY: (207) 287-8066

Augusta - The Department of Human Services today provider further information related to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which showed that physical inactivity and poor diet are catching up to tobacco as our number one underlying cause of death in the United States. Applying this study’s outcomes to Maine suggests that an estimated 2,200 Maine people are dying from tobacco every year and 2,100 are dying from physical inactivity or poor diet.

“The solution to this health problem involves all of us taking better responsibility for our diet and physical activity,” said Acting DHS Commissioner John R. Nicholas. “Many Maine communities have already taken small but significant steps to make it easier for all of us to maintain a healthy weight.” Commissioner Nicholas noted that a number of Maine communities have already opened school gyms in the evenings for community use, promoted farmers’ markets, replaced school soda with milk, and paved road shoulders to allow for more pedestrian use.

Ten years ago, a similar study estimated that a yearly average of 1,460 Maine people, or four every day, were dying from poor diet or physical inactivity. This recent study now puts that estimate to six people every day, a number on par with the six per day that are estimated to die from tobacco.

“These findings are confirmed by our increasing obesity and overweight epidemic,” said Dora Anne Mills, MD, MPH, Director of DHS’s Bureau of Health. “With about 60% of Maine adults overweight or obese and one-third of Maine youth weighing too much, this epidemic has become one of our biggest challenges.”

Further application of this study, which was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggests that each year an estimated 500 Maine people are dying from alcohol and illicit drug use, 300 from pollution and 250 from vehicle crashes and firearms. Overall, about half of all deaths in the U.S. and in Maine are from a small number of preventable causes.

Dr. Mills noted that the state is making a concerted effort to address the physical inactivity and poor diet problems in Maine. “The newest phase of our Healthy Weight Awareness Campaign is called ‘Get Your Portions in Proportion,’” she said. “The ads encourage us to take smaller helpings of food at mealtime, and in light of the results of this recent study, that’s even more appropriate.”

More information is available on the web at or by calling Debbie Wigand at (207) 287-4624.