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Campaigning for a Healthier America

After losing 110 pounds, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee hopes his new book and a national initiative will inspire other Americans to slim down, too.

Bipartisan diet: Huckabee (left) and Clinton have something in common--they've both lost weight and are urging others to do the same.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
Bipartisan diet: Huckabee (left) and Clinton have something in common--they've both lost weight and are urging others to do the same.
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WEB EXCLUSIVE
By Jennifer Barrett
Newsweek
Updated: 10:33 a.m. ET May 10, 2005

May 5 - Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee knew he was overweight. His doctor had told him so. And at more than 280 pounds, he had trouble fitting into airplane seats and restaurant booths.

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But his weight problem was made painfully evident in early 2003 at a meeting in a State Capitol conference room. The room had just undergone a renovation to restore its nearly century-old design and Huckabee’s usual seat had been replaced with an antique chair. When the governor sat down, there was a collective gasp among the attendees. The chair had collapsed under his weight. Huckabee laughed it off at the time, joking, “They sure don’t build them like they used to!” But, in his new book, “Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork,” he admits, “Deep down, I knew it wasn’t the chair that needed rebuilding—it was me that needed a major overhaul.”

To lose about 110 pounds, the governor developed what he calls a “12-stop” program with tips like: stop procrastinating, making excuses or fueling yourself with contaminated (a.k.a. junk) food. Now he’s sharing his experiences in his book and in a new childhood obesity campaign launched last week with former president Bill Clinton and the American Heart Association. NEWSWEEK’s Jennifer Barrett spoke with Huckabee, a Republican, about his personal and political efforts advocating weight loss. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Why did you and President Clinton decide to focus specifically on childhood obesity?

Gov. Mike Huckabee: It’s the long-term goal of the American Heart Association to try to address this. People underestimate the epidemic of childhood obesity and the growing epidemic of type 2 diabetes [which is linked to obesity] among preteens. Type 2 used to be called adult onset diabetes, but we can’t call it that anymore because it is onsetting with adolescents and even preteen kids. The way I put it is: when preteens are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they can expect to have vision problems in their 20s, a heart attack by the time they’re 30, total renal failure by the time they’re 40—and they’ll be dead by 50.

How did you get involved with the campaign?
President Clinton called me three weeks ago out of the blue. I was stunned. We have a good relationship, but I’m not expecting him to pop in and say howdy. He said the AHA had approached him and he said that what I was doing in Arkansas with the Health Initiative and what I’d done personally was impressive, and he asked me to serve with him as co-chair of this campaign. I thought it really fit with what I am immersed in myself.

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