As the mayor of one of the country’s fattest cities, Mick Cornett is not taking this one sitting down. He appeared on Ellen’s show last week where he introduced the country to Oklahoma City’s million pound weight loss initiative- This City is Going On A Diet. They built a Web site of the same name where Oklahoma City citizens can create a free account, track their weight and find valuable resources to help them in their effort.
There is a generous list of weight loss programs, local trainers and nutritionists and other advice about eating right and staying active. Mayor Cornett explains that without the program and the site “We’d be doing a disservice to our citizenry by pretending the obesity epidemic is going away on its own. We have to change what we expect. This is something that we as a community can take on and turn around.”
Since launching This City is Going on a Diet January 1, Oklahoma City has lost more than 13,000 pounds. The goal is for the city to lose a million pounds- and unlike the Just Lose It Meridian campaign in Meridian, MS championed by fellow mayor John Robert Smith, Oklahoma City doesn’t have a deadline. “There’s no time limit on the program. As long as it’s working and successful- there’s no reason to stop it,” explains Mick.
In addition to putting the resources together to create this weight loss program, Oklahoma City also has 300 miles of new sidewalks planned and putting in nearly 50 new elementary gymnasiums. “We have to turn the culture to a community that places a high priority on healthcare, values young people and is more pedestrian friendly,” says Mick. What does Oklahoma City gain in return? The Mayor says “We gain a more energetic workforce and citizenry.”
While Oklahoma City tops the country in the most fast food restaurants per capita in the U.S. (a fact the Mayor places on being an auto-based community and the low price of land making it easy for companies to support their business model), it has no plans to put a moratorium on the opening of these restaurants.
The Mayor was headed out yesterday to Washington D.C. for the bi-annual Conference of Mayors. While the agenda is set in advance and no discussion about Oklahoma City’s or Meridian’s weight loss initiatives are slated, he imagines he’ll have an opportunity to share thoughts with Mayor John Robert Smith among others to compare notes and possibly encourage others to follow suit.
The Mayor seems to be traveling a lot- as he’s just back from his visit to Ellen in L.A. Of his visit with Ellen? “It was a lot of fun. I was so impressed by her talent.” He thought that compared to her, and what her audience is used to, he thought his topic was a little mundane. But apparently Ellen helped spread the word because OKC’s This City is Going on a Diet had 2,000 sign-ups that day alone.
As per usual with Ellen’s guests, everyone was anticipating a dance from Mayor Cornett. He got off easy since the host was sick that day, but he says “I was prepared if necessary, but not disappointed about not dancing.”
Thanks Mayor for visiting with us today- and good luck to Oklahoma City on shedding those pounds!
Mayor John Robert Smith sets his alarm at 5:15 every morning to jog two miles and get in 45 minutes of upper or lower body exercise. Being mayor of Meridian, MS is a full-time job, and one he is impressively committed to. He says if he didn’t make his day start this early, he’d find a million reasons not to work in the exercise. “It’s absolutely critical that you give up the excuses,” says Smith. The alternative he says is an early grave.
In the past two years the 59-year old has lost about 30 pounds. Having been a fat child and seeing his family’s struggles with weight, he proudly says he’s now in the best physical shape of his life. Mayor Smith says he knows how it feels to be stuck inside a fat body and what obesity does to one’s health. He’s painfully aware of the hikes you won’t take, the pretty views you give up and the stairs you won’t climb when you’re overweight.
Obesity is a cause near and dear to Smith’s healthier heart, not only because of his personal experience, but because his home state of Mississippi ranks as the fattest state in the union. He said USA Today ran a story naming the U.S. the fattest country in the world. Couple that with Mississippi’s fattest state badge and he says he realized “that makes Mississippi the fattest people in the world.”
Mayor Smith says it was then that he decided to do something. “It was a natural fit to have the public join me because I’m a cheerleader for the action I’m already taking myself.” His says it’s so important for leaders who champion a cause like this to participate right along side the citizens. Along with Meridian’s Parks and Recreation director Mark Naylor, they launched a city-wide campaign to take Meridian and Mississippi off of those fattest lists. In October, “Just Lose It! Meridian” was launched. They simply asked 1000 people in the community to sign up, commit to lose 10 pounds each and by January the city would be down 10,000 pounds. They currently have close to 1000 people enrolled, including organizations like hospitals and banks and a total weight loss of about 5,000 pounds to date. They city was so taken with the program that they requested an extension through March. So Mayor- Diets In Review will be back in the spring to find out how everyone is doing.
On yesterday’s episode of Oprah, she and Bob Greene announced the kick off of the 2008 Best Life Challenge. To promote the weight loss campaign, she visited her home state of Mississippi because, what better place to launch a weight loss campaign than in the fattest state? After learning of the Just Lose It! Meridian campaign, Oprah chose that community to help with the launch.
Meridian was aware that Bob Greene was going to visit the community this past Friday, but it was only two days prior to taping that they learned that the daytime queen would also be attending. They had to ramp up preparations for what would be an “exponentially grander event.” Oprah’s staff complimented the mayor on how well the crowd of about 4,000 was behaved. He says the town really enjoyed the event and the national attention that this will bring to Meridian and Mississippi.
Not only did Meridian serve as a beautiful backdrop for Oprah’s broadcast, but the Mayor says the scenery makes for an impressive backdrop to get fit in as well. Meridian shares a border with Alabama, and enjoys a hilly landscape and a 3600-acre Bonita Lakes Park with gorgeous jogging trails, horseback riding and hiking trails.
Launched in the cooler months when people are more likely to get out and exercise, Just Lose It! made sure to give citizens all the tools they needed to help them reach their goals. “There’s no weigh in, it’s on the honor system,” explains Smith. “We created the Web site, fitness centers waived their joining fees for the campaign and hospital dietitians passed out information on proper diet. The day we kicked off we had some fitness experts show good exercises that you can do at home or while traveling. You don’t always have to go to the gym.”
“We tried to cover all of those bases with the public so that they have all the information they need. We created the Web site where you can log-in to report weight and link to other sites about proper diet and exercise. We tried to give you the choices and options you need for information so it’s a well-rounded program.” Mayor Smith goes on to explain that arming his citizens with these important tools was to ensure that no one thought of this as “a fad for a certain dress size or to get into a bathing suit for the beach, it’s a lifestyle change. Face it that way.”
He says that’s important because of the lifestyle in the South. “In the South, we fry everything. And the vegetables we cook in pork fat.” He knows that it’s an unhealthy diet and the hope for the Meridian community is that they will also see this.
The Mayor comments that this is an easy and affordable program for other cities and mayors to implement. “We’ll be glad to furnish the information we have and the lessons we’ve learned,” he says. He just reminds that if you’re going to implement this in your community, be prepared to commit yourself and “demonstrate through leadership.”
The next time you’re in Mississippi and pass through Meridian, if you’re up early enough, you just might see Mayor John Robert Smith jogging through town before the day gets busy. And he’s likely to be amongst your biggest cheerleaders for weight loss.
Congratulations Meridian- and good luck on losing it!