NEW YORK – Former President Bill Clinton (search) and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (search) -- two politicians whose love of junk food landed them in the hospital -- are hoping to help the next generation shape up.
The two announced a campaign Tuesday to stem the tide of obesity (search) by encouraging children to create lifelong healthy habits that emphasize better nutrition and increased activity.
"The truth is that children born today could become part of the first generation in American history to live shorter lives than their parents because so many are eating too much of the wrong things and not exercising enough," Clinton said.
Clinton and Huckabee vowed to halt childhood obesity in the United States by 2010. Estimates are that 16 percent of U.S. children are obese, making them susceptible to such life-threatening illnesses as heart disease and diabetes.
Clinton's motivation for getting involved was the heart bypass surgery he had last September; Huckabee's was the 110 pounds he lost after being diagnosed with Type II diabetes.
"Two years ago I would not have been asked to be here today to speak to this issue, for the simple reason that I would have been about the worst role model you could have had," he said.
The men spoke at a school around the corner from the hospital where Clinton was operated on last year.
They said they would work with schools, communities, the restaurant and food industry and the media to develop programs and policies designed to encourage healthier food choices and more exercise. An interactive Web site for children 9 to 13 is also in the works.
"We're going to give this our best shot because we want all these children to live to be 90 years old and to be healthy doing it," Clinton said.
Few specific measures were outlined and no dollar figure was provided for the campaign, a joint project of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation.
"When the American Heart Association approached me about working together to combat heart disease, I wanted to do more than just tape a public service announcement because of what had been done for me and because I had frankly dodged a very big bullet," Clinton said.
The initiative pointed out that the number of overweight children has more than doubled since in 1980. Overweight children and adolescents have about a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight adults, and, if the trend continues, it could cut two to five years from the average lifespan.
Huckabee, whose book "Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork" comes out next week, said others must take personal responsibility, as he did. Of the food industry, he said, "when the marketplace demands healthier choices, they'll be presenting them."
Childhood obesity experts said having prominent names associated with the issue can only help, but the food industry and the government must play a role.
"You have to get industry involved," said Lisa Altshuler, director of the Kids Weight Down Program at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City. "They're such a major part of the problem they have to be part of the solution."