A State's Battle Against Obesity

Arkansas Takes a Frank Look at its Weight Problem

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

hide captionAfter a health scare, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee made a decision to change his lifestyle. Over a year, he lost 105 pounds. His new routine includes 5 a.m. jogs — and he's given up the fried food that's so much a part of Southern life.

Jane Greenhalgh, NPR

Long-steeped in a Southern tradition of fried delights, the people of Arkansas are saying no more. The state, from its schoolrooms to the governor's mansion, is taking an honest look at its weight problem and coming up with innovative ways to cut the fat. In a two-part report, NPR's Patricia Neighmond looks at Arkansas' strategy for finding out how bad the problem is, and reversing it.

Part 1: A Letter to Parents

Alarmed by the epidemic of obesity among America's schoolchildren, many states have come up with plans to fight the problem. But there's only one state in the process of weighing and measuring all of its public school children to find out the extent of the problem.

The small town of Arkadelphia was the first school district to take measurements. What it found was alarming: nearly half of its graduating senior boys are overweight; the same for 10th grade girls. As part of a state pilot project, the school sent letters home to parents, informing them of whether their child is underweight, normal or overweight. The letters are a part of a detailed strategy for improving kids' health that includes banning some vending machines and increasing nutrition in school lunches.

Part 2: The Governor's Crusade

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was once was the most prominent obese man in the state. After a chest-pain scare and a diagnosis of diabetes, he lost 105 pounds. Huckabee has since taken his personal crusade against weight public and is pushing for several innovations, such as the conversion of sick days to vacation days for healthy people, replacing smoke breaks with exercise breaks, and requiring restaurants to publish the caloric and fat content of their food.

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