The mayor of America's fast food capital knows a thing or two about population health

Oklahoma City has the highest rate of fast food consumption in the U.S. The hometown of Sonic's headquarters is marked by an abundance of parking lots and a scarcity of sidewalks, representing the epicenter of the national obesity epidemic, according to Politico.

Mick Cornett had served as mayor of Oklahoma City for three years when he saw Men's Fitness magazine call it the 8th fattest city in the U.S. in 2007. Mr. Cornett, a former sportscaster, had recently dropped 40 pounds in 40 weeks by reducing the number of calories he consumed from 3,000 to 2,000 per day, according to the report.

On New Year's Eve, Mr. Cornett said he was putting the whole city on a diet, decidedly confronting the massive issue that has vexed healthcare and political leaders around the nation for years. A third of Americans are overweight and one-sixth are obese. Those numbers have more than doubled in the last twenty years, and they tripled in Oklahoma City. However, the campaign to fight obesity is one that centers around behavior, which is difficult to change. Regardless, Mr. Cornett was ready to take on the challenge.

Here are six key takeaways from Mr. Cornett's "This city is going on a diet" campaign, according to Politico.

1. First, a friend of Mr. Cornett's created a website to store data and track the city's weight loss progress. Most of the city's big corporations enrolled their employees, with 47,000 residents signing on to the goal of losing a cumulative 1 million pounds.

2. Mr. Cornett's aim was not to stop people from eating at fast food restaurants, but to help them choose more nutritional options at the restaurants they already frequent. "I made a distinct decision early on that we weren't going to take on the fast-food industry or the private sector," Mr. Cornett told Politico. "I took a realistic approach that people are going to eat fast food, but there are some choices are better than others and people need to realize that. Just because you've made the decision to eat at that restaurant doesn't mean there aren't further decisions to be made."

3. The city's 1.3 million residents supported the mayor's anti-obesity initiative without contest. Mr. Cornett was reelected as mayor twice since 2007. Even restaurants and fast-food chains were good sports, many of which created a healthy "mayor's special" on their menus, according to the report.

4. In 2012, four years after the campaign commenced, Oklahoma City's residents exceeded its 1 million pound weight loss goal. That year, Oklahoma City was removed from Men's Fitness list of fattest U.S. cities, according to the report. However, data from Gallup and Healthways from 2012 show the city's aggregate obesity rate has continued to rise since 2008.

"I feel comfortable that those 47,000 people did lose weight," Mr. Cornett told Politico, though he said it is possible another substantial subset of the population also gained a million pounds.

5. After the city surpassed its weight loss goal, Mr. Cornett sought bigger, permanent structural changes to help residents improve their health. For instance, in Mr. Cornett's first year in the mayor's office, Oklahoma City dammed seven miles of the North Canadian River. After it became a permanent body of water, it received a bond issue and corporate donations which eventually helped it become an Olympic-class rowing center. The now $100 million boating district will soon be supplemented with a $44 million whitewater training and recreation course for kayakers and canoeists. The sales tax and $68 million bond issue have supplied the funding for hundreds of miles of sidewalks, bike and walking paths and new health and senior fitness centers, according to the report.

6. The city also focused on food in school cafeterias. Deborah Taylor, a child nutritionist who is part of a team at Eugene Field Elementary School in Oklahoma City, helped change the school's menu. Before, students were served burgers, French fries and pizza. In 2014, the school board fired the food company it had been working with and hired a chef and three nutritionists in its place. Now, students at Eugene Field have to choose three of five items grouped into protein, grain, milk, fruit and vegetable categories, according to the report. However, only about half of the kids are happy about the food changes and eat the lunches. "They cry in the line," a cafeteria manager told Politico.

More articles on population health:
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