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Bill Clinton and Weight

Aired August 6, 2005 - 8:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning. Welcome to a special edition of HOUSE CALL. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Our guest today is former President Bill Clinton, who's talking about the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. Experts are warning that today's children and teens are in danger. In fact, they may be the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents. Remarkable.

This is not because of an incurable disease, but because of the very preventable conditions of excess weight and obesity. Every weekend, HOUSE CALL will spend more time reporting on the problems and the solutions involved with childhood obesity.

We call this our "Get Going, Get Healthy" program.


GUPTA (voice-over): While Deanna Glenn is not considered obese, she says a creeping weight gain got her to get moving. We visited this YMCA program, and noticed more like it springing up, where children are encouraged to workout and learn about nutrition.

Officials tell us we're in the grip of an epidemic, as our kids get fatter. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 15 percent of our children are now considered obese. And the U.S. Surgeon General says overweight kids have a 70 to 80 percent chance of staying that way or becoming obese as they grow up.

Type II diabetes used to be rare among children. Not anymore.

ERIC FELNER, DR., EMORY UNIVERSITY: Today probably 67 percent is Type I and 33 percent is Type II. We're having that much of an increase in Type II diabetes, which we know is directly related to increased weight gain.

GUPTA: We also see more cancers and heart disease associated with obesity.

WILLIAM DIETZ, DR., CDC: If we don't successfully prevent obesity, we're going to be paying the costs of the complications of this disease well into the next three or four decades.

GUPTA: As this once obese girl knows, the social stigma of being overweight can be brutal.

MAL MAHEDY, LOST 130 POUNDS: It got to the point where I was being made fun of every day. And I just eventually quit school.

GUPTA: Quitting unhealthy behaviors and staying motivated is easy to talk about, as anyone knows, but difficult to do, especially in the land of plenty.


GUPTA: Well, in the last three decades, obesity rates have skyrocketed in children, doubling and in some cases, tripling. And now former President Bill Clinton has made this problem his top national priority, teaming up with the American Heart Association to battle childhood obesity.

And President Clinton, thank you very much for coming and addressing this. First of all, we've got to ask, people want to know how you're feeling?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm doing great. I think I've made a complete recovery. And I'm back resuming full-time work activity. And I'm playing golf and doing everything I did before.

GUPTA: You look great. You look fit and trim as well.

CLINTON: Thank you.

GUPTA: Obviously, there's a link -- and you've talked about this -- between your own diet and your subsequent heart problems. Talk about that. Were you overweight as a child, as an adolescent?

CLINTON: I was. I was overweight. You know, I was probably in the last generation of Americans where people widely thought a fat baby was a healthy baby. And I lived with my grandparents until I was four. My mother went back to nursing school after my father died. And they just stuffed me.

And so I was -- I always battled my weight all of the way through school, although I had pretty well gotten it down by the time I finished high school. I was 6'1" and weighed 192 pounds when I graduated from high school. And that's about what I am now.

GUPTA: How bad did it get? I mean, you know, obviously, and you've talked about this...

CLINTON: Oh, I was -- when I was 13, I was 5'8" and weighed 185 pounds.

GUPTA: Is that right?


GUPTA: What was the worst meal - do you remember the worst meal you ever had or the types of food that were the worst that you ever ate?

CLINTON: No. I ate, but I ate a lot of stuff that was high in fat and high -- and I ate a lot of it. And you know, I just didn't think about it. And I didn't have regular exercise.

But what happened to me is now systematically happening to a younger generation of people. And because first of all, food's still a pretty good bargain in America, and a lot of working families who have to work don't have much time, don't have time to prepare food at home and have to spend a lot of money on housing, on transportation and other things, healthcare. They know they can get, you know, high value for the dollar with food in terms of bulk.

And a lot of this food that's purchased, particularly in restaurants, fast food places, is higher in fat content and sugar content and bigger portions than was the case 20 years ago.

And I understand why all this happened. But the bottom line is that we've got too many kids too overweight. And they're walking time bombs. They're going to get adult onset diabetes too early. They're going to have cardiovascular problems. And the system is really going to be stressed.

GUPTA: Is it your personal sort of background that got you most interested in childhood obesity? I mean, there are so many things that you as a former president can do?

CLINTON: Well, when I -- first of all, when I had my heart problem, I was approached by the Heart Association as kind of America's most recently famous heart patient.

GUPTA: Right.

CLINTON: And I thought I ought to do something for healthcare, but I told them I wanted to think about it. I settled on this childhood obesity thing, not only because I got it because I was a heavy child, but because I'm really worried about it.

I mean, the rates are too high. We have never had statistically significant numbers of kids with adult onset diabetes before. Emory University's done a study saying that obesity alone accounted for 25 percent of the increase in health costs over the last 15 years.

So, I thought it was a chance where I could save the most lives, do the most good, and also do something they understood from my own experience.

GUPTA: Is it a solvable problem, do you think?

CLINTON: Absolutely. It is. But I think it's a problem with more than one piece. I think, if I could very briefly, I think first of all, we really need to help the restaurants and the fast food places in offering more heart healthy items and then lowering the trans fat and sugar contents of their preparation of all items.

Secondly, we need to improve the quality of the school lunches.

Thirdly, we need to either get the vending machines out of the schools, or get the bad stuff out of the vending machines.

And then fourthly, we need greater awareness on the part of the parents. And we need a young person's movement to eat healthy.

When I announced this program with the governor of Arkansas and the Heart Association in Harlem, we did it at a school with fresh fruit and vegetables, where the kids were writing essays to me. Six and 7-year-older kids writing essays to me on the importance of eating healthy. So we can do this.

GUPTA: And we are going the talk specifically about these programs. That's going to come up. A lot more with President Clinton when HOUSE CALL continues. Also, he's going to be taking your questions coming up after the break.


GUPTA: Well, we're back with President Clinton. Childhood obesity is the topic and his biggest domestic initiative as well. And I want to be real specific here, because I've looked into some of the stuff you're talking about.

Creating a generation of student leaders, challenging the restaurant industry to do better as well, and also looking at vending machines and school lunches as well, really important stuff.

And we have some questions about that from some of our viewers. James in Florida has this question. "What would you recommend the state legislatures and governors to combat childhood obesity?" And Mr. President, I mean, is this individual responsibility? Or is this something that the legal system government should get involved with?

CLINTON: Both. First of all, the legislatures and the governors, who get involved because they provide most of the money for the schools. So the first thing I'd ask them to do is to look at schools, set some standards for the school meals. Set some standards that the schools contracted out to a firm. You know, are they getting fresh fruits and vegetables? Are they getting a variety of vegetables? Almost half of all vegetable consumption by people under 20 is potatoes.

And they can certainly do something about the vending machines. They either ought to get them out of the grade schools or get the bad stuff out of the vending machines.

So I think that's the first thing. They can have more physical education programs. So those are all political things.

Then the governors can negotiate and work with the eating establishments for voluntary responses just like we are.

GUPTA: Is there a way to give it more teeth? I mean, to really say look...

CLINTON: If you look at what - yes, if you look at what Governor Schwarzenegger has done in California with the California legislature, bipartisan, the Democratic legislature, Republican government or what Governor Huckaby's done in Arkansas, Republican governor, Democratic legislature, they have made changes in the school lunches. They've made changes in the vending machine programs.

They've -- the things that went into the direct control of the education establishment, they've moved to change. So you can do that.

But I also believe that most of these big companies, they want to do the right thing if they can figure out how to do it without, you know, losing a lot of money.

There -- Pepsi Co. made a lot of money out of its healthy food options last year. And I also think it's important to talk about - to tell people that we're not asking them to change the world. If they just cut a few calories a day off what these kids are ingesting, they can make a difference.

An 8-year-old child who consumes 45 fewer calories a day, a couple bites of candy, less than half a Coke, 45 calories fewer a day, when he or she graduates from high school will weigh 20 pounds less.

So we're not talking about radical change in eating habits to get a radical change in results.

GUPTA: Yes. All right, let's make some news here. I mean, you're the former president of the United States. Why don't you go to the fast food industry, go to McDonald's and say, look, what you're doing is hurting us. In fact, it's killing us. Would you do something like that?

CLINTON: Oh, absolutely. We've reached out to McDonalds, to the other fast food places, and to a lot of the food producers. And they're trying -- if you look at, you mentioned McDonalds. They've dramatically increased their fruit and vegetable purchases. 30 years ago, the American family sent 70 cents of every food dollar eating at home with food they prepared and 30 cents eating out.

Now they -- it's almost 50-50: 50 percent eating out. And over half of that is in fast food places.

GUPTA: That's remarkable.

CLINTON: Now a lot of that is more people working. They have less time to be at home to prepare. They need access to McDonalds. And it's good value for dollar. You get good bulk. And it tastes good for the money you have to spend on it, but we cannot sustain it from a healthcare point of view.

It's devastating to the country for people to be ingesting as much fat and sugar as they are, eating the way they do. So the obvious answer is to find a way not only to offer more heart healthy items in the fast food places, but to reduce the fat and sugar content across the board. So we have to have their help. We can't make it without it.

CLINTON: And then, that's something that you are certainly working on. We are talking with former President Bill Clinton about childhood obesity, an important domestic initiative for him and his foundation. Stay tuned for more HOUSE CALL after the break.

ANNOUNCER: A president who battled his weight helps you fight for your children's health. More with the former president coming up.

Plus, a fast and healthy grocery store pit stop.


ELLIE KRIEGER, REGISTERED DIETITIAN: One of my favorite staples in the freezer section is frozen shrimp.


ANNOUNCER: Stay tuned for more fast, healthy foods.

But first, this week's medical headlines in "The Pulse."


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Being overweight can increase your risk of acid reflux disease. That's according to a study published in the "Annals of Internal Medicine".

Researchers analyzed studies from the past 40 years, many showing a notable link between a high body mass index and acid reflux.

The condition, which is caused by stomach acid seeping into the esophagus, is known to cause esophageal cancer in some patients.

And a new study finds a link between exposure to tobacco smoke and metabolic syndrome in teenagers. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors, including being overweight and having high blood pressure, that puts people at a high risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

The study, published in the "Journal of the American Heart Association", finds those exposed to second hand smoke are five times more likely to develop the syndrome. And smokers themselves are six times more likely.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN.



GUPTA: Welcome back to a special edition of HOUSE CALL. We're talking with former President Bill Clinton about his new initiative to fight and prevent childhood obesity.

Mr. President, you mentioned earlier in some of the Southern states, the rates of childhood obesity have gone up to 25 percent. Some people say there's a link here between that obesity rate and poverty. What do you say about that?

CLINTON: Well, I don't think there's any question that there is. I know that from my own experience. People with lower incomes and less disposable income look for ways to get more bulk from their purchases. And they're very likely to buy things that fill them up, but are not necessarily good for them.

GUPTA: We've got an e-mail coming in, an important one, I think, from a teacher in Virginia. Anu writes this, "I am a teacher in the D.C. Public School system where obesity is rampant. Do you think a health report card will make a difference?"

CLINTON: Well, I think we have to be careful not to make these kids ashamed, defensive. That may make them eat more and less willing to change.

On the other hand, one of things that was done in Arkansas that I was very impressed by, is that the health department people went into the schools and literally every single child in the school had his or her body mass index measured. And they sent a report home to the parents with the body mass index of the child, along with an indication of what they should do if the body mass index was not good, that they were too heavy.

Now if you did that, then what I think we should do in terms of reporting is that instead, we ought to create a positive atmosphere where the kids in the school who are fit, who are healthy, kind of help the others and create a movement to create a healthy school, a movement that makes it cool to do this without increasing the shame that kids may already feel in the subconscious that they may already feel.

Because you've got a - it's a very delicate thing. You don't want to get the kids too in the darker places than they were. You want them to move toward a light place, you know, where they can really feel good about themselves.

But I think it would really help if the parents, who often are contributors to their children's obesity, knew what the body mass index was, and knew what the consequences of not changing it are. So that, I think, would be positive.

GUPTA: It's an important piece of information. I hope a lot of parents and children are listening to this because it is former President Clinton's - one of his biggest domestic initiatives.

We're going to be talking more about it. More HOUSE CALL after the break. Stay tuned.

AMMOUNCER: Changing our future, childhood obesity in the year 2010.

But first, packing a lunch or a picnic? Our "bod squad" is here with the latest healthy fast foods.


COHEN (voice-over): Thank you. You don't have time to fit healthy eating into your daily routine? Think again. Registered dietitian and author Ellie Krieger has a few tips for people on the go.

KRIEGER: Your first stop should be the produce section, where you will find more precut, pre-washed options than ever before. Here we have vegetables, fruits, just about everything to be healthy.

One of my favorite staples in the freezer section is frozen shrimp. It is just so convenient. You can make a shrimp cocktail if you have guests. You can throw some shrimp into a tomato sauce. It's just a really easy, convenient way to get some good, lean protein.

Tuna in a pouch is one of the most convenient ways to get good healthy protein on the run.

Next stop, dairy. From individual yogurts to drinkable yogurts to individual milks that you can tote along with you, all really easy ways to get your calcium.

COHEN: Thanks, Ellie.

For the "bod squad", Elizabeth Cohen, CNN.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obesity is the epidemic of the century.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was always telling him, don't do this, don't do that.

SHAWNA RUBECK, OVERWEIGHT TEEN: People have called me "cupcake" as a joke. And I'd just sort of laugh about it.

COHEN: Plunging into childhood obesity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was the most traumatic experience I've ever had.

CHOEN: We'll meet youngsters who are taking charge and changing their lives. What can parents do? The risk of obesity is high.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Heart disease, Type II diabetes and cancer.

COHEN: Along the way, we'll open doors to success stories.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here is the boy who used to weigh 220. How much do you weigh right now?

JARED FITZPATRICK, OVERWEIGHT TEEN: One hundred and thirty-eight.

COHEN: What does it take to keep the weight off?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cooking something does require coming up with a plan for it.

COHEN: Is portion distortion to blame? Does junk food have to go? We'll travel across the country to college campuses, take you to a place some people consider the holy land of weight loss. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This place saved my life.

COHEN: Join HOUSE CALL every weekend on the frontlines of a deadly battle -- childhood obesity. We're getting answers and giving hope. It's time to get going, get healthy.

If you want more information on childhood obesity or President Clinton's joint initiative, go to You can sign up for an obesity newsletter and find tips for parents and kids to stop weight again in its tracks.

Also try the CDC at Its VERB program helps get kids and teens moving.


GUPTA: The former president of the United States has been our guest today on HOUSE CALL. This generation of Americans being born today could be the first to have shorter lives than their parents. Really remarkable. I mean, this is something you pointed out.

CLINTON: Yes. It would be, I think, devastating. It would be bad for us on a human level, bad for us psychologically, and very bad for us economically.

The strains on the healthcare system will be enormous. We're already going to have to deal with Social Security. We've already got challenges with Medicare.

If we basically have the kind of drain on our national resources, it's going to be very difficult for us to maintain our position in the world.

But the most important thing is it's a human tragedy. You don't want any kid to die before he or she has a chance to grow up, get an education, go to work, build a family, have a full life. And there's no reason to let this happen.

And I'm absolutely convinced that in the early days of this obesity problem, child by child, family by family, neither the children nor the parents understand the real consequences of what they are doing.

I am also quite convinced that those who do may think that, you know, God made them fat or there's nothing they can do about it. And if they just had a step by step program with a lot of positive re- enforcement to move away from it, along with more help from the providers of food in the schools and the restaurants and at home, I think they'd do a lot better.

GUPTA: Well, what's your best advice for parents watching today? Last piece of advice?

CLINTON: First of all, if you think the child may be overweight, figure out what the body mass index is, analyze your child's diet even if your child's not overweight. What does your child eat at home? What does your child eat out? What does your child eat at school?

And figure out how you can cut the fat and sugar content, as well as increasing the exercise your kid gets. But if you just and keep in mind, don't think a little bit can't make a big difference.

Forty-five calories a day for an 8-year-old every day saves you 20 pounds when you graduate from high school. So my advice is, know what your child's condition is, analyze what your child's eating, figure out how to cut the fat and sugar content.

You can do it and it can save your child's life and save a lot of your country's future.

GUPTA: Cut 45 calories a day and save yourself 20 pounds. Great advice.

We're committed to this at CNN. I know you are as well. Hopefully we can partner together on some things in the future. Thank you so much for your time.

CLINTON: Thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

GUPTA: Thanks everyone at home as well for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.



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