US political heavyweights shed pounds for support

The battle of the bulge has become a new rallying cry for several United States politicians who have made their personal fight against obesity central to their politics.

At a time of no-holds-barred negative campaigning, analysts said the public often is looking for a positive, feel-good political message—and that a politician winning the battle against obesity fits the bill nicely.

Perhaps the public official most closely associated with his battle to trim his waistline is Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a leading contender for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

After being diagnosed in 2003 with Type-Two diabetes, Huckabee changed his eating habits, added daily exercise to his regime, and shed more than 45kg over two years.

With health and fitness issues now his political calling card, the Republican governor rose from relative political obscurity to national fame. His “Healthy Arkansas” campaign aimed at promoting sound eating habits is a success, and he has written a popular self-help book: Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork.

“In politics, people have a brand just like products have a brand in the marketplace and it’s better to be the guy who’s working to improve himself than to be the fat guy,” said Arkansas political analyst and longtime Huckabee observer John Brummett, in a recent radio interview.

The American Obesity Association estimates there are about 127-million overweight adults in the United States, making the market for a feel-good weight-loss message enormous.

Republican Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia also led a highly publicised effort to slim down, and recently shed more than 14kg head of his successful re-election campaign this month.

Former US president Bill Clinton also was prompted by a medical crisis—in his case, heart surgery in 2004—not only to end his junk food-eating ways, but to launch a campaign promoting better dietary habits in youths.

Meanwhile, Democratic US Representative Jerrold Nadler, who struggled with obesity for years, has taken a more low-key approach after 2002 bariatric surgery, a type of surgery to treat severe excess weight, which helped him slim down considerably.

“We haven’t had any events or anything to talk about it,” said his spokesperson John Doty.

“He felt a lot better right away. He’s not skinny as a rail or anything like that” but much healthier and happier after slimming down.

Virginia lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling lost his bid for re-election this month, but succeeded in his goal of dropping 13kg by the end of the year.

“It’s been phenomenal,” Bolling said.
“I’ve been in government for 15 years. I’ve never done anything that has caught the public’s attention like this has.”

And California Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante saw similar public enthusiasm for his campaign for state-wide office this month, which centered around his 32kg weight loss.

The formerly rotund politician, who once tipped the scales at nearly 136kg, began dieting at the start of the year and made his battle against obesity a very public affair, with daily weigh-ins and a blog recounting each step of his weight-loss odyssey.

“I was really fat,” Bustamante, a candidate for state insurer, said in a recent radio interview before his November 7 election loss to his Republican opponent.

“I used to tell people I’m in perfect shape. The problem is that perfect shape is round,” he said.

He said he hoped to inspire constituents that old-fashioned, tried-and-true methods are best for achieving their weight-loss goals. For his part, he exercises on a treadmill every other day, in addition to dieting.

“No operations, no pills,” Bustamante said recently.

“I’m hoping that one day I’ll be half the man I used to be.” - Sapa-AFP

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