Mayor with a Mission

Who you calling fat? Mick Cornett and the citizens of Oklahoma City have gone on a health kick.

Nobody wants to end up on the Men's Fitness list of the fattest cities in America—just ask the fine citizens of Oklahoma City who ranked as the 8th fattest city this year. That's why they've set a goal to lose a million pounds and to shed their chubby image for good. MF recently sat down with the man who's leading the city's charge against obesity, Mayor Mick Cornett. Here, he gives us his thoughts on America's weight epidemic, fat bloggers, and why it's not the size of the stadium seats that's the problem.

Oklahoma City landed on MF's fattest list again this year. How has the city reacted?
Healthcare is one of the largest issues facing Americans, and Oklahoma City is no different in that respect. Obesity has been our biggest problem. But I decided it was a problem we could do something about, so I came out with two fundamental statements to get people's attention. One, this city is going on a diet. Two, this city is going to lose a million pounds.

Your new website is getting a lot of attention from the national media. Tell us how you've used the Web to deliver your message?
I launched www.thiscityisgoingonadiet.com on December 31 because that's when the media does its New Year's resolution stories about weight loss. I knew I could use this as a vehicle to carry the message about our city's new health initiative. The site documents everything—the number of people who have signed up, the amount of weight they've lost, the average weight loss, etc. The site also serves as an accountability tool because it tracks everyone's progress. You log on, update your info and you'll instantly know if you're doing better or not. No government money went into this program. I enlisted the help of someone from the private sector to build the website. There's no budget for this—it's just taking off on its own.

How did the city react when you issued a call out for citizens to lose weight?
Reaction has been about 95 percent positive. I'm learning a lot about the culture of weight loss. I didn't know there were bloggers out there who were proud to be fat. I'm not suggesting they need to change, but they did attack the initiative. We care about these people and we care about kids who are overweight. Once I set this million-pound goal-which I didn't place a time limit on—I said we have to change the culture of the community to make health a top priority. What's been the most fulfilling to me is how so many citizens are coming up to me and giving me their personal stories of how they lost 10 or 15 pounds. We're actually talking about obesity for the first time. We know we can do better—it's all about choices and personal responsibility.

You not only put your city on a diet, but you put yourself on a diet as well. Do you feel like you're in the hot seat now?
If I eat at a restaurant in Oklahoma City, people will hover over me to see what's on my plate. I knew I would have to shape up if I was going to lead this project. I'm not necessarily the greatest spokesperson because I've gained and lost weight all my life. But I do know how frustrating it can be to battle with your weight. As mayor, I was gaining five to 10 pounds per year because everyone likes to feed the mayor. I always thought obesity was something that other people had a problem with, but I looked in the mirror and started reading government statistics and I realized that I'm part of the 28 percent of our city that has a problem with weight.

What are some of the steps you've taken to lead a healthier lifestyle?
I believe it all comes down to what you eat and how much you eat. I was eating about 3,000 calories per day and I've cut that down to about 2,000 calories per day, which is plenty of food. If I know I'm going to have a big dinner at the end of the I'll make sure I have a light breakfast and lunch. I also play tennis three times per week.

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