Former President Bill Clinton, whose heart disease and love of burgers and barbecue have been well-chronicled, and the once obese Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who’s pushing a new book about his weight-loss success, joined with the American Heart Association in announcing their health campaign.
“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.
Huckabee, Clinton’s fellow Arkansan, said he himself lost 110 pounds after being diagnosed with Type 2 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. “My doctor sat me down and said if you don’t change your lifestyle you’re in the last decade of your life.”
Estimates are that 16 percent of U.S. children are obese and up to a third are overweight or obese.
Clinton and Huckabee announced the effort with heart association officials at a school gym around the corner from the hospital where Clinton had heart bypass surgery last year.
While they described few specific measures, 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.
“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.
Robert Eckel, president-elect of the heart association, said that “even more disturbing than the actual prevalence of obesity in children is the startling rate at which obesity is rising. The rate has doubled in children and tripled in teens in just the last 25 years.”
He said that overweight children have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight adults.
No dollar figure was provided for the campaign, which is a joint project of the heart association and the William J. Clinton Foundation.
Experts in the field of fighting childhood obesity 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 Brooklyn. “They’re such a major part of the problem they have to be part of the solution.”
Clinton has previously devoted his foundation’s resources to fighting AIDS in the developing world, but said he was drawn to the issue of childhood obesity after his heart surgery.
“When the American Heart Association approached me about working together to combat heart disease,” he said, “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.”