Your City's Fat -- Now What?

Houston, you have a problem. A big, fat problem.

"I can't believe it," says one male diner eating ribs, rice, beans and bread in a restaurant, "I don't know what we're doing wrong here."

The February issue of Men's Fitness magazine has named Houston, Texas "America's Fattest City" for the second year running (or not running). Among "fat cities," Houston ranks No. 1, followed by Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Dallas. [To see how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks states by overweight people, click here.]

"It's not something that we would want to have as a distinction for our city," says Houston Mayor Lee Brown.

But the magazine says Houston deserves it. "This is an important problem that needs to be addressed," says Men's Fitness nutrition editor Mike Carlson.

The magazine lumps together a number of factors to reach its conclusion: television viewing habits, available parks, water quality, climate commuting times, fast food and others.

You may question the methodology, but few doubt that Houston — and many other big cities — need a good workout.

Start Slimming Down

Houston is taking the news to heart.

"We'll take advantage of this distinction we did not ask for and make sure we work very hard to mount a very aggressive campaign," pledged Brown.

Houston is getting advice from Philadelphia, whose mayor is "enormously proud that we're not the fattest city anymore."

Philadelphia — home of the cheese steak — was ranked No. 1 in 1999 but has dropped to No. 4, after a determined effort to slim down.

The city ran a campaign to lose 76 tons in 76 days. And even though they missed the goal by about 65 tons, at least they're trying. "We're too fat. Philly's too fat," says Philadelphia's mayor, John F. Street. "We have a fat country."

National Obesity on the Rise

In fact, the national rates of obesity and diabetes have grown by 50 percent during the last decade.

A whopping two-thirds of American adults are either obese or overweight. And obesity is a factor in 300,000 deaths each year, according to the U.S. surgeon general.

"If there's one good thing that comes out of this poll, it's that it's a call to action for all of the cities," says Dr. Robert Kushner, the medical director of the Wellness Institute and the Nutrition, Fitness and Weight Management Programs at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Chicago moved up to No. 2 on the fat list from No. 10 last year.

Tamara Barber, a fitness instructor at the gym, Crunch Fitness, is not surprised: "Compared to our clubs in Los Angeles and New York, the Chicago club doesn't see as much traffic."

She says she hears all sorts of excuses, like "it's too cold here" or "the restaurants are too good" in the city of big shoulders. "Big shoulders and big derrieres," laughed Babrer.

In a search for the fattest city in America, no one should want to stick out (in more ways than one).

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1994, 1996, 1998