Mick Cornett: How Did An Obese City Lose A Million Pounds? Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett explains how his city sidestepped gluttony and collectively dropped one million pounds.
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How Did An Obese City Lose A Million Pounds?

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How Did An Obese City Lose A Million Pounds?

How Did An Obese City Lose A Million Pounds?

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MICK CORNETT: Define gluttony. Well, I think the human body needs a certain amount of nourishment and calories in which to survive. And when you start exceeding those for the enjoyment of eating, you're starting to invade the territory of gluttony.

RAZ: This is Mick Cornett. He's the mayor of Oklahoma City. He was elected back in 2004. And even though he didn't plan for it, in that moment, Mick Cornett was unknowingly taking on the sin of gluttony. We'll let him explain in this TED Talk.


CORNETT: Now, the city I inherited was just on the verge of coming out of its slumbering economy. And for the very first time, we started showing up on the lists. Now, you know the lists I'm talking about. The media and the Internet love to rank cities. And in Oklahoma City, we'd never really been on lists before. So I thought it was kind of cool when they came out these positive lists and we were on there. We weren't anywhere close to the top. But we were on the list. We were somebody. Best city to get a job, best city to start a business, best downtown - Oklahoma City. And then came the list of the most obese cities in the country. And there we were.

I was just insulted and embarrassed and - but not in denial. I mean, I knew it was an issue. And if you were going to rate the cities in obesity, it didn't surprise me that we were on the list 'cause all you had to do is look around at the people and the next generation, and you can see our kids. Someone said, and I can't validate this, but I don't doubt it's true, that Oklahoma City has more fast food restaurants per capita than any place on earth.

RAZ: Wow.


CORNETT: At about that time, I got on the scales. And I weighed 220 pounds. And then I went to this website sponsored by the federal government. And I typed in my height, typed in my weight, and I pushed enter. And it came back and said obese. What a stupid website. I'm not obese. I would know if I was obese. And then I started getting honest with myself about what had become my lifelong struggle with obesity.

RAZ: So Mayor Mick Cornett came up with a plan not just to take on his own weight problems but to take on the sin of gluttony in his entire city. That story coming up as we continue with gluttony, the second of our seven deadly sins. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR.


RAZ: It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. And on the show today - the seven deadly sins. So before the break, we were hearing from Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. He was starting to confront his struggle with gluttony - but we might politely call bad eating habits.

CORNETT: Well, the problem is everybody wants to feed the mayor. And it's almost like it's an obligatory move by whoever is hosting you or whoever's having a press conference or an event or an invitation that they have some sort of food there. So it's breakfast, or it's pastries in between, or it's lunch, or it's cookies in the afternoon. And I felt like I was saying no consistently to all these opportunities for additional calories. But obviously, I wasn't.

RAZ: You have to eat that food. You're the mayor. You can't say no because then people are going to be offended.

CORNETT: Well, and perhaps that was my, you know, kind of unannounced response. But while I was still trying to figure out how to address the community's issue, I first said I've got to take care of my own issues. And I just stopped eating as much. And I started losing weight. I lost about a pound a week for 40 weeks.


CORNETT: And I tried to examine how we might deal with obesity and was taking all of these elements into my mind. I decided that the first thing we needed to do was have a conversation. You see, in Oklahoma City, we weren't talking about obesity. And so on New Year's Eve of 2007, I went to the zoo. And I stood in front of the elephants. And I said this city is going on a diet. And we're going to lose a million pounds.

RAZ: You did not make the elephants go on a diet - just for the record.

CORNETT: No, in fact, the people at the zoo were concerned that I was implying the elephants were overweight. And so our spin on that was that the elephants' size represented the gravity of the situation.

RAZ: I see. Right. OK, fair enough.

CORNETT: And we set up a website where people could log in with their weight. And as they lost weight, the website had a counter on it that it would accumulate how many pounds had been lost collectively and how may people had signed up for the program.


CORNETT: And so the pounds started to add up. And the conversation that I thought was so important to have was starting to take place. Mothers and fathers talking about it with their kids. Churches were starting their own running groups and their own support groups for people who were dealing with obesity. We also are building hundreds of miles of new sidewalks throughout the metro area - designing a city around people and not cars.

And so you see this culture starting to shift in Oklahoma City. When we reached a million pounds in January of 2012, I flew to New York with some of our participants. And then that afternoon, I did a round of media in New York, and I went into the lobby of Men's Fitness magazine - the same magazine that had put us on that list five years before. And as I'm sitting in the lobby waiting to talk to the reporter, I notice there's a magazine copy of the current issue, right there on the table. And I pick it up, and I look at the headline across the top, and it says, America's fattest cities - do you live in one? Well, I knew I did. So I picked up the magazine, and I began to look. And we weren't on it.


RAZ: Mick Cornett is the mayor of Oklahoma City. In 2012, Men's Health, that same magazine that named his city one of the fattest in America, put Oklahoma City on its list of fittest cities. But, I mean, you still, like - you've got to occasionally, like, eat a greasy cheeseburger with, like, special sauce right?

CORNETT: Yeah, I do.

RAZ: So you haven't cut it out completely.

CORNETT: Not completely. No, I probably don't go double quarter pounder with bacon and cheese.

RAZ: Yeah. That would be gluttonous.

CORNETT: (Laughter) Yeah, that's right.

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