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Oklahoma City Reaches “One Million Pounds” Loss Mark

By Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett
February 13, 2012

After confronting obesity in my own life and examining the issue on a community basis, I felt the need to get a broader conversation started about the issue. We had been listed as one of the most obese cities in the country, but it appeared to me that we in Oklahoma City were in denial and were secretly hoping that the problem would go away on its own if we ignored it.

My priorities as mayor are jobs and education. I believe that if you are really serious about creating jobs, you have to address the health insurance issues that job-creators face.

Believing that drawing attention to the problem was the first step toward confronting the issue, I called a press conference on Dec. 31, 2007, and put the entire city “on a diet.” I thought the diet needed a goal, so I challenged residents to lose one million pounds.

The website we established received national media attention. We talked about it on the “Ellen” show and with dozens of national news outlets. Other cities began calling and asking how they could start similar programs. And somewhere along the line, I became a very unlikely ‘expert’ on weight loss.

Last month we reached our goal. Over four years, 47,000 people had gone to the website pledging to lose weight. The website chronicled their successes and, together, we reached the 1 million pound goal. The syndicated “Rachael Ray” show was on hand for the announcement.

One thing about being the mayor of an American city is that you soon discover that everyone wants to feed you. At seemingly every event or meeting there is plate of food. I was adding a couple pounds a year until I realized, after looking at a government guidelines, I had dined my way into the obese category.

I’d been a high school athlete and had always exercised, so that wasn’t the problem. I knew it was the amount and kinds of food I was eating. So I cut back. I ate more sensibly. I eventually lost 40 pounds and have, through eating right, kept it off.

Oklahoma City is now a million pounds lighter, which is a remarkable achievement. But more importantly, we raised awareness of the issue and have started an ongoing conversation about the health risks and financial costs of obesity.

Along the way, I met some remarkable Oklahomans.

Amy Petty e-mailed our office to complain about a bridge we were repairing but had not yet re-opened. Amy bikes 15 miles to and from work each day and that bridge is on her route. She had already lost about 200 pounds and admonished us that if we were serious about exercise and diet, we’d get that bridge fixed. The bridge is now open and Amy is training to run her first full marathon in the Oklahoma City National Memorial Marathon.

I met twins Dan and Don Evans, both officers in the Oklahoma City Police Department. They decided to change their lives and lost 124 and 130 pounds respectively.

And last month I received the following e-mail:

“Mr. Mayor…

“Congratulations on the city hitting the one million pound mark. It takes a lot of hard work to lose weight. My name is Mason Carter Harvey from Guthrie. I wanted to sign up on the website but couldn’t because I am only 12.

“Just one year ago I was 206 pounds in the sixth grade. I was so tired of being picked on and tired of feeling lazy all the time. I put down my Xbox 360, started playing more outside, playing sports, and riding my bike. I stopped drinking pop and stopped eating as much chips and candy. I took a course at the YMCA and just started losing weight. The more I lost the better I felt, the better I felt the harder I worked and the more I lost.

“Today I am 120 pounds. I have lost 85 pounds. I was center for my jr high football team this year and best of all, now I have lots of friends and feel really good.

“Have a fun day,

Mason Carter Harvey”

The new awareness led to public policy decisions designed to make Oklahoma City a healthier community. With city council’s leadership and the will of the people, we are working to create an Oklahoma City designed for active people.

In 2010, we began a four-year, $140-million reconstruction of our downtown streetscapes. Streets are being narrowed and sidewalks widened and landscaped to make the urban core more pedestrian friendly.

We’re investing more than $770 million in capital improvements that include a new 70-acre park in the heart of downtown, 50 additional miles of walking and biking trails, improved sidewalks throughout the city and health-and-wellness aquatic centers for seniors. The Oklahoma River has been developed as a world-class rowing venue and U.S. Olympic training site. Rowing camps are offered during the summer for city youth. We’re building new gyms at each of its 44 inner-city elementary schools to ensure that our students have access to health and fitness facilities. We’ve eliminated fried foods from our school menus and made other changes to get our kids healthier.

It might take a generation to fully change behaviors, but the people and policies in Oklahoma City are addressing the issue of obesity in creative and concrete ways.