Losing weight is one of the most difficult endeavors, and one of the most isolating. Who wants to be the drip ordering a salad when everyone’s going out for pizza, or passing up dessert when everyone else is oohing and ahhing over the molten-lava fudge cake? But for some urban dwellers across the country, these scenarios may no longer be an issue, since their public officials have instituted citywide initiatives to urge citizens to lose weight as a community. Instead of fighting peer pressure to order cheese fries at the bar on Friday night, citizens of these three cities are being encouraged to count calories together.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s official state meal consists of cornbread, sausage and gravy, chicken-fried steak, and pecan pie, according to FitSugar.com. With a stick-to-your-ribs dinner like that, it’s no wonder Oklahoma City ranked fifteenth in a 2007 survey of America’s fattest cities. In response, mayor Mick Cornett decided to put the city on a diet and challenged residents to lose one million collective pounds in the year 2008.
To date, more than forty thousand participants have registered for the citywide program, dubbed This City Is Going on a Diet, and together they’ve lost more than 550,000 pounds. Mayor Cornett has appeared on national television, from The Ellen DeGeneres Show to The Biggest Loser, and has used the publicity to launch similar programs in cities around the country.
He attributes the success of his initiative to the program’s Web site, where citizens have been able to find support and resources for making healthier food choices and working exercise into their everyday lives. They can also read success stories from other citizens just like them. The site features helpful weight-loss motivational tips like this one: burning an additional 250 calories a day will help you lose twenty-six pounds in a single year. Wow, that’s just the extra chocolate chip cookie I had today.
New York, New York
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City health officials have been on a mission to sleuth out hidden fat, calories, and sodium in restaurant meals.
In 2006, New York became the first city to ban trans fats from restaurants. The city’s Board of Health passed the ban unanimously, despite protests from industry representatives who called the measure burdensome and unnecessary, according to MSNBC. Nonetheless, effective July 2008, all artificial trans fats were illegal.
The next victims of the mayor’s health kick were the hidden calories in fast-food restaurants all over the city. In 2008, Bloomberg required chain restaurants to post the calorie content of their menu items. And although a Stanford study emerged in 2010 questioning whether this public disclosure of calories really helps in the battle against obesity, the mayor stood by his policy. According to a press release from his office, “[t]his study helps confirm what we’ve believed all along: consumers can make healthier choices when supplied with the right information, and businesses can profit while offering their customers healthier alternatives.”
That’s why he’s pushing for a nationwide plan to reduce the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant foods by 25 percent over the next five years, according to Bloomberg.com. Studies have indicated a link between high-sodium content in food and heart attack and stroke, so Bloomberg and New York City health officials want to protect their citizens from the unconscious salt particles they’re consuming every day.
“The misconception is that if you’re not adding salt to your food, then you’re not a salt eater,” said Rebecca Solomon, a nutritional coordinator for the surgical weight loss program at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York. “Salt is in all the things we rely on. It’s a preservative, and it’s an effective preservative, but unfortunately it doesn’t preserve our health.”
In March 2010, Louisville mayor Jerry Abramson looked around at his fellow citizens—himself included—and became very concerned for their health, because he noticed that most of them were carrying around more than a few extra pounds. So he put the city on a diet with the Lose It, Louisville initiative, a citywide weight-loss and fitness program designed to help people eat more healthfully and become more active. The program’s goal is for the city to collectively lose one hundred thousand pounds by Labor Day 2010.
“I’ve been mayor for twenty-one years now, and when I started this job at age thirty-eight, I was a much slimmer guy with fewer gray hairs,” Abramson said. “And although I’ve always been active—first with running and now mainly biking—I’ve put on a few extra pounds. That’s why I’m committed to losing a few pounds, and I encourage our citizens to do the same.”
Citizen age eighteen and over are eligible for the program. They can track their weight loss and get health and fitness tips online at loseitlouisville.com, as well as enter to win weekly prizes, including bicycles and gift certificates to local shops. Participants also receive weekly email tips for staying in shape and can learn about free fitness events around town.
As obesity continues to be a health problem across the country, mayors and their citizens are banding together to be proactive about their own well-being. From the Midwest to the Northeast to the Deep South, America’s pants are getting a little bit looser every day.