Governors Promote Fitness

Michigan's governor is urging residents to walk off extra pounds. The governor of South Carolina is heading up a 300-mile bike ride across the state. And in Texas, the governor is encouraging people to train for a 10K run in April.

As lawmakers across the country consider dozens of bills to promote healthy lifestyles - from testing school students for their fitness to warning restaurant diners about fat, sugar and cholesterol - a number of government leaders are trying to set a good example.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm (search) of Michigan is competing against pedometer-wearing lawmakers to see who can rack up the highest number of steps over a 16-week period.

"We've got so many people who are fat, so many people who are smoking, so many who are not active, and that is really contributing significantly to our health care costs, not only to Medicaid but to the private sector as well," Granholm said during the annual meeting of the National Governors Association (search) in Washington.

About 127 million adults in the United States are overweight, 60 million are obese and 9 million severely obese, according to the Washington-based American Obesity Association (search).

At least 15 medical conditions are exacerbated by gross overweight, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes (search) and liver disease, the group said. Of those diseases, obesity was directly responsible for $102 billion in health care costs.

The increasing difficulty of states to cover health care costs of low-income residents through Medicaid is part of the reason governors are trying to encourage their constituents to be more healthy.

In January, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced the "Texas Round-Up" to help get residents in shape. Program participants are training to compete in a 6.2-mile walk or run on April 17 in Austin, Texas.

In South Carolina, Gov. Mark Sanford invited residents to join him on a 300-mile bike ride across the Palmetto State in his State of the State address last month. The springtime trip will start in the mountains and head to the Atlantic coast.

A number of elected officials are taking their own advice about being healthy.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee lost 75 pounds in 2003 and wants to use his final years in office to promote health and wellness, particularly among state workers.

Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia threw away his Snickers bars when he issued a "Capitol Challenge" to lose weight in 2003. He dropped 8 pounds, although he has gained some of it back.

Former Houston Mayor Lee Brown lost 20 pounds and has kept it off for 2 1/2 years after the city was named the nation's fattest by "Men's Fitness" magazine. Houston held that title for three years running before it went to Detroit in this year's survey.

After the survey was released in 2002, Brown began the "Get Lean Houston" initiative, an ongoing citywide health and fitness movement to encourage residents to get into shape and live healthier lifestyles.

In Tucson, Ariz., Mayor Bob Walkup challenged city residents to lose weight and keep it off with last year. Between 400 and 500 people lost an average of 7 pounds in the 12-week program. This year about 600 people registered for the challenge, coordinated by the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

Although Tucson isn't listed among the country's fattest cities, program director Lauve Metcalfe said it's important to emphasize healthy living everywhere.

"It's an epidemic everywhere you go," she said. "We have to see this as a concern for all people."