When a City Goes on a Diet


For MosaicScience.com, Ian Birrell paints the picture of a concerted effort by many people, encompassing an entire city, and led by a public official who is “hailed as an urban visionary.” The journalist describes what he calls “a remarkable attempt to tackle obesity.” The place is Oklahoma City, located in what some coastal snobs call a “flyover state.” Considerably more than 600,000 people live there, spread out over a spacious 620 square miles, so of course the automobile reigned supreme for decades.

In 2004 when Mick Cornett first became mayor, there were no bike lanes, and maybe not that many sidewalks. The urban environment was ultra pragmatic and alienating. As time passed, a number of factors coalesced and inspired Cornett to become the prime mover of a renaissance. https://mosaicscience.com/story/fat-city

There were troubling reports from the medical sector, of high cholesterol counts in children too young to start school, and of older kids with orthopedic problems more usually found in the middle-aged. Sugar consumption, especially in the form of soft drinks, was off the charts.

Enter the media

At one point, it came to the mayor’s attention that a fitness magazine declared his city to have the worst eating habits in America, along with the highest density of fast food joints. In national obesity statistics, the citizens made a poor showing. Also, Cornett realized that he himself was obese. The job entailed constantly showing up for breakfast or lunch meetings, and all kinds of other events where food and drink are served and consumed.

The obligations attached to his position in life made many demands, and provided an excuse to carelessly eat the wrong things, and too much of them. In this way, the mayor was just like anybody else. As a human facing an obese future, he was no different from a typical OKC resident the writer introduced for contrast.

Velveth Monterroso moved to the capital of Oklahoma as an adult, and eventually noticed that her weight had increased by 50%. Only 34 years old, she weighed one and a half times as much as when she arrived, and was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. She and her husband worked long hours and were too exhausted to prepare healthy meals although, ironically, they were both employed as cooks. “The shoemaker’s children go barefoot” is a cliche for a reason.

Even when their second child was born and Monterroso became a stay-at-home mom:

She was tired and her family encouraged her to drink lots of atole — a heavily sweetened corn-based drink popular in central America — to aid the breastfeeding of her new daughter…

Obesity is a menace that cuts across lines of gender, class, race, and economic status, in every American city. But this place had something different — a mayor who left behind a 20-year career as an on-air television personality. Mick Cornett had been a professional sportscaster, and was a past master of the art of public relations. He challenged the citizens to collectively lose a million pounds.

A total of 47,000 people signed up, who in January of 2012 were found to have lost around 20 pounds each. The million-pound win was decreed in January of 2012 — and that was only the beginning of the story, which will continue next time.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The fat city that declared war on obesity,” MosaicScience.com, 10/13/15
Photo credit: Michigan Municipal League (MML) via Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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