If the thought of eating a brownie dripping with chocolate icing excites you and the thought of exercising more than once every three months makes you cringe,you are not alone.
According to Men's Fitness magazine—which annually publishes a list of America's fattest and fittest cities—nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight.
Lynn Swann,chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports,said Americans need to make lifestyle changes,including eating right and increasing physical activity.
“The government can't mandate that people be healthy,” Swann said. But,“you never know what you are capable of doing until you try.”
Swann,an NFL Hall of Famer,said people must balance diet and exercise. If people are not exercising regularly,they should be reducing their food intake. The trick is finding a safe balance between the two.
Leaders in areas such as Las Vegas,Philadelphia,and Houston are trying to find that balance and making a conscious effort to change their cities' reputations as “fat.”
Las Vegas,which falls in the bottom half of the Men's Fitness fattest cities list,is the home of Mayor Oscar Goodman,one of the most famous mayors in the country.
After reading the magazine's list last year,Goodman embarked on a health and fitness program and lost more than 20 pounds since November.
“He was a bit overweight,so he decided to challenge himself,” said Jason Roth,the mayor's spokesperson.
“He lost all that weight right around the holidays,which is really good for anyone.”
Goodman has discussed his progress on numerous television programs,and he now is encouraging Las Vegas residents to join him in his health and fitness endeavors.
In Columbus,Ohio,the mayor's office and local media created a “Commit To Be Fit” program,designed to improve the overall health and fitness of the city's residents.
The city was fifth on the fattest cities list in 2001. It also found itself at the top of lists of cities with the most heart disease,lung disease,cancer and diabetes cases.
“Out of the five deadly sins,[Columbus] ranked in the top 10 of all of them,” said Rick Buchanan,who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of “Commit To Be Fit.”
WBNS-TV news anchor Andrea Cambern,who worked as a medical reporter at the time,felt she was in a position to take a leadership role and affect change in the community.
“I knew that we couldn't change overnight,but we didn't get this way overnight either,” Cambern said.
She laid out the facts and figures of Columbus' health problems and brought a proposal for the “Commit To Be Fit” program before Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman,who ran with the idea.
Together the television station personality and mayor's office researched other cities' fitness challenges,recruited sponsors and tailored a program to fit Columbus' health needs.
“All of America has some serious health challenges,” said Mike Brown,the mayor's spokesperson. “We're no different from any other city in that respect.”
Coleman,who was diagnosed with diabetes more than a decade ago,made significant adjustments to his own lifestyle. He began eating right and exercising,and he quit smoking,Brown said.
The “Commit To Be Fit” Fitness Challenge is a six-month,self-monitored program. Its Web site—found at 10tv.com—provides participants with weekly diet and exercise tips,stress management techniques,and smoking cessation information,Buchanan said.
Since the program's introduction two years ago,Columbus has fallen to eighth in the Men's Fitness list. Buchanan said 62 percent of residents have changed their fitness levels,and an additional 64 percent intend to change in the near future.
“The response has been better than I ever expected,” said Cambern,who has received countless letters and e-mails from community members who want to share their success stories with her.
Buchanan said the city's goal is to see an overall increase in health and fitness and make lifestyle behavioral changes,not just lose a certain number of pounds.
“It's going to take a number of years for us to see results,” he said. “[The program]'s going to go on indefinitely.”
Health and Fitness Czar Gwen Foster said 26,000 Philadelphia residents already have joined in the city's original fitness challenge.
Philadelphia's program sends its participants on fictitious “health trips” to locations such as Las Vegas and Albuquerque,N.M.,allowing them to earn “frequent mover miles” when they complete certain physical activities.
Residents spend 76 days tracking their progress,all the while implementing 10 principles into their lives. The principles range anywhere from finding a buddy to support them to drinking plenty of water.
“We challenge them to become lifestyle coaches,” Foster said. Philly's challengers each have lost 5.3 pounds and are eager to continue the program.
The federal government is using Philadelphia's “health trip” technique as a pilot program for the Tri-City Challenge,which will begin March 23 and include Baltimore and Washington,D.C.
“We're really excited about joining with these cities and extending fitness to other areas,” Foster said.
She said hopefully the program will continue to spread across the country and increase Americans' overall health.
Health and fitness are about “being part of a team,” Swann said.
“We can come together as a team with one goal,and then we can begin to make these problems disappear.”