OKLAHOMA CITY – With a button-popping spread of cornbread, sausage and gravy, chicken fried steak and pecan pie designated as Oklahoma's official state meal, it's no surprise that Oklahoma City's mayor wants to put the city on a diet.
Mick Cornett has challenged the city to shed 1 million pounds as its New Year's resolution.
Prompted in part by his own struggle to lose weight, Cornett wants to end Oklahoma City's dubious distinction as one of America's fattest cities.
"The message of this obesity initiative is that we've got to watch what we eat," Cornett said Thursday. "Exercise is part of it and the city is trying to change into a city that is less sprawling, has more density and is more pedestrian friendly, but you're not really going to take on obesity unless you acknowledge that we eat too much and don't eat the right foods."
As part of the initiative, residents can sign up and track their weight loss on a new Web site. More than 2,600 people had registered by Thursday. They've lost more than 300 pounds.
Besides a body mass index calculator, the site includes recipes and links to metro-area fitness centers. Plans call for expanding the site to include the opportunity to blog and network with other participants, Cornett said.
"It's always easier if you're doing something hard if you have other people to do it with," he said.
The mayor timed the start of the weight-loss program to the beginning of the new year, when many people begin exercise programs after holiday feasts.
Oklahoma City ranked 15th in a 2007 survey of America's fattest cities conducted by Men's Fitness magazine. The survey examined lifestyle factors in each city, including fast-food restaurants per capita and availability of city parks, gyms and bike paths.
"I can't tell you exactly where you rank in our 2008 survey, but I can tell you that Oklahoma City is in the top 10," magazine spokeswoman Jennifer Krosche said. "That's not good."
The Oklahoma Legislature designated an official state meal in 1988. The menu also includes fried okra, squash, barbecue pork, biscuits, grits, corn, strawberries and black-eyed peas.
Cornett, 49, stands about 5-foot-10 and weighs 183 pounds. He began a personal fitness initiative eight months ago when he weighed 217 pounds.
"I would like to get down to 175, so I've made a goal to lose 8 pounds over 8 weeks," he said.
Carrie Snyder-Renfro, a 44-year-old teacher working out at a fitness center Thursday, said she made a resolution last month to eat healthier and exercise. While she was unaware of the mayor's Web site, she said she would consider signing up.
"Last year I dieted and lost about 10 pounds a month for three months, but I left out a key component," she said, huffing and puffing on an elliptical machine. "I didn't exercise regularly. I ended up losing muscle mass instead of fat, and I ended up gaining almost all of it back.
"Now I'm making it more of a priority to put everything in balance. I have to get the eye of the tiger back."
Cornett wants to make exercise more attractive to residents by increasing the number of bike trails and sidewalks in the sprawling city, where public transportation is minimal, most people are wedded to their cars and outdoor activities for some might be limited to watching a football game.
"In Colorado, you ski, you climb, you run ... something," said Karen Massey, community nutrition coordinator at Integris Baptist Medical Center. "In Oklahoma, we're either involved in competitive sports or we do nothing. We're spectators."