Need to Lose Weight? Ask Your Mayor for Help

Mayor Betsy Price at the Cowtown C.A.L.F. 5K
Mayor Betsy Price at the Cowtown C.A.L.F. 5K

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett leads by example. Inspired by the benefits of his own 40-pound weight loss, Mayor Cornett initiated a citywide weight-loss challenge in December 2007. The audacious goal: make Oklahoma City 1 million pounds lighter. Tens of thousands of residents participated, meeting the 1-million-pound goal in February 2011. Cornett continues to foster citizens' health through increased city investment in pedestrian-friendly infrastructure and projects such as a $35 million, Olympic-caliber whitewater course.

In short, his government is working to inspire and shape his community to help his community get itself in shape. Adding programs for healthy living is a growing trend for cities trying to combat the obesity epidemic in the U.S. According to the CDC, more than one-third of Americans are obese. Consequently, the U.S. population suffers from rising rates of heart disease, strokes, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

Citywide weight-loss challenges are so popular that they've triggered the formation of an advocacy group, PHIT America. The organization sponsors legislation, helps cities implement fitness campaigns, and partners with public and private entities to publicize the benefits of fitness.

These health-oriented cities differ widely by region and population, but they have one thing in common: their mayor-led weight-loss challenges lives as well as waistlines. Here are four other examples of mayors helping slim down their cities:

Fort Worth, Texas

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price started FitWorth in September 2012, after learning that most Fort Worth public school students were overweight. FitWorth's primary focus is schoolchildren and their families. Initiatives include twice-yearly fitness challenges at area community centers and schools; Fit15, which encourages workers to take fitness breaks; the Cowtown Marathon C.A.L.F. 5K for children; and Price's weekly Rolling Town Hall, an open bike ride with about 75 constituents.

Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean favors an integrated approach to tackling his city's poor health statistics. Since his election in 2007, Dean has combined pedestrian-friendly infrastructure projects, education and special events to encourage citywide weight loss.

His most popular initiatives include Walk 100 Miles with the Mayor, which takes place in city parks and drew more than 4,000 participants between 2011 and 2013; the Mayor's Challenge 5K; and the family-oriented Mayor's Field Day with the Tennessee Titans.

Tupelo, Mississippi

When then-Mayor Jack Reed took office in 2009, he hoped to make Tupelo the healthiest city in Mississippi. He formed a Healthy Task Force to sponsor initiatives such as Health on a Shelf, which places healthy food in convenience stores; the Mayor's Marathon, whose participants cover 26.2 miles over a one-month period; and a team weight-loss campaign.

The effort paid off, literally. In 2012, BlueCross BlueShield of Mississippi awarded Tupelo $50,000 and first place in the Healthiest Hometown competition.

Somerville, Massachusetts

Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, Mass., is another city executive on a mission. His Mayor's Fitness Challenge, which runs for 10 weeks each year, awards points to teams and individuals for weight loss, decrease in BMI and participation in citywide fitness events. Teams and individuals who accumulate the most points receive prizes at a citywide party and fireworks show.

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