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Fit Nation

Aired June 18, 2006 - 19:00   ET



DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It began as a country of open spaces and big places. A land of plenty. Americans lived off the land, working with their hands. Gathering around the dinner table was expected. Welcome to modern life, all you can eat. Abundance of choice. Work and recreation has moved from the fields and the front yards to the couch and the computer. Now childhood obesity rates are exploding, diabetes, heart disease, even death now coming at a young age. Where will we fine the answer to this contemporary health crisis? From government?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We spend very little on wealth and prevention, lifestyle changes, but boy we'll spend hundreds of billions of dollars to patch and fix and mend it later on.

GUPTA: From doctors?

It's a lifesaver, and it's life altering for these children.

GUPTA: From big business?

It costs a lot more to watch this obesity epidemic develop and then pay for the consequences of it.

GUPTA: Is there something you can do?

They are looking for this magic bullet. There is no magic bullet, there is common sense.

GUPTA: How did they get here and what can we do to create a fit nation?

Hello, I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The information you're about to hear may actually alarm you, cause you to worry about your children's health, force you to rethink how you use your free time. But as a nation we're facing a crisis. We are at a tipping point, literally tipping the scales and endangering our own health and the health and future of our children because we eat too much and we move too little. The consequences can be devastating. Listen to this, because of overweight, obesity and inactivity, we're setting ourselves up to be at much greater risk for very serious conditions, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, gall bladder disease, arthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory diseases, cancer and even clinical depression. You know as a doctor I can't just sit by and watch this happen. We've got to work together to make a change. So over the next hour, you're going to hear inspirational and motivational stories of real people who have turned their weight and turned their lives around. You're going to get tips from celebrities. We're also going to show you what governments, schools and businesses are doing to reverse this century's epidemic. Together, we'll work through a checklist of action you can take to build a fit you and a fit nation. I'm excited about bringing you this program. And I hope that I might see you in your hometown as we take the fit nation challenge to cities across America.

We're here at the University of Michigan, UNC, Spelman, Iowa State University -- for a simple reason. There's something going on out there that we've been talking about for some time. I'm sick and tired of talking about it -- we need to do something about it. And here's the thing is that it is a fixable problem. We can do something about this, we just have to somehow act. Because of obesity, we're not as productive a society as we could be. We're falling behind. Because of obesity we are not enjoying our lives as much as we once did. We're becoming a more miserable nation. I should tell you, among all of you tonight is a young woman who is a fellow classmate of all of yours who has already started to do something about this.

Spelman College freshman Miriam Archibong doesn't take good health for granted.

MIRAM ARCHIBONG, SOPHOMORE, SPELMAN COLLEGE: My grandfather died of diabetes. My dad has diabetes, he has type 1 diabetes, he injects insulin into his body every day. My family is overweight.

GUPTA: So Archibong started a vegetarian club at her high school and prompted the school board to create meals for vegetarian students.

ARCHIBONG: And it was very important for me to take care of myself before I got it got to a worse point.

GUPTA: Former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher says when it comes to heart disease, statistics for African-American women in the U.S. are alarming.

DR. DAVID SATCHER, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Black women for example are 35 to 40 percent more likely to die of heart disease than white women in this country.

GUPTA: Why are black women more affected by obesity and the chronic diseases associated with it? Satcher says the reasons are complicated.

SATCHER: People are predisposed to things like obesity and diabetes based on their genetic inheritance. But whether or not they actually become obese or diabetic depends a lot on behavior and environment.

GUPTA: And he warns that this new epidemic could undermine recent gains made in healthcare. SATCHER: Decline in cardiovascular disease in the last 40 years are over 60 percent decline in even new cases of cancer. All of that's driven by the epidemic of overweight and obesity.

GUPTA: Satcher adds the disparities in healthcare between white and black Americans are real and they cut across class lines.

SATCHER: In every social economic group that we've looked at there are major disparities. If you look at black physicians compared to white physicians there are major disparities in life expectancy.

GUPTA: Archibong says now that she knows the benefits of good health, there's no going back.

ARCHIBONG: And I was sick a lot. I got migraines often and once I became a vegetarian, that was no longer a issue for me.

GUPTA: She believes setting an example and taking care of herself is the best thing she can do for those she cares about.

ARCHIBONG: In order for me to encourage others to change their lifestyle, I had to begin with myself.

GUPTA: Part of our message is it's not just you. The issue of obesity in our country has ties to government policy, economic situations, our individual cultures. Even something so basic as access to fresh food and safe playgrounds. In a small town in Texas they are taking on these issues with a good dose of personal responsibility in a truly life-saving effort. Take a drive down Main Street in Eagle Pass, Texas and you'll see signs of Mexican and American culture. When dietician Peggy Visio first came here she saw children at the elementary school who had trouble walking a block.

PEGGY VISIO, DIETICIAN: We found 54 percent of the boys by the time they were 10 years old were overweight or obese and 37 percent of the girls.

GUPTA: Visio has done nutrition research and training in towns along the Texas border, and Eagle Pass was next.

GEORGE KYPUROS, UNITED MEDICAL CENTERS: Going from six tacos for breakfast to two tacos for breakfast is being on a diet.

GUPTA: Lifelong resident George Kypuros is director of the town's medical center. He says people here suffer from soaring childhood obesity levels, hypertension and diabetes. At the Henry Gonzalez Elementary School, 55 percent of students are considered overweight. 37 percent are deemed obese. There are plenty of concerned parents.

PARENT: My child is in sixth grade, he's overweight, so he thinks if anybody else doesn't want the food, he gets the food.

GUPTA: Students now drink low fat milk and fresh fruit replaces sugary juices. These changes are part of a wellness program brought here by a nonprofit group concerned about childhood obesity in border towns. Miguel Anaya, Esmeralda Rodriguez and their four children enrolled after program workers were concerned about 3-year-old Ashley's weight. When CNN visited, 34-year-old Miguel found out he has dangerously high blood pressure. Results of a troubling family health history on both sides.

MIGUEL ANAYA, "GET FIT EAGLE PASS" PARTICIPANT: My father-in- law, he has to live with diabetes, he had a stroke. My mom she passed away, she had diabetes, too.

GUPTA: The Anaya family also has no health insurance. A staggering 34 percent of those under the age of 18 live below the national poverty line in this community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered this chilling projection. Half of all Latino children born five years ago in the United States are expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime. Anaya credits the wellness program organized by Methodist Healthcare Ministries with teaching his family to exercise and to eat better.

ANAYA: I got my plum, I like eating a lot of fruits.

GUPTA: Anaya lost seven pounds and says he feels better, but he adds that fast food is everywhere.

ANAYA: Any where you go there's food, it's calling you, I'm over here, I'm over here.

GUPTA: Anaya is now taking medication for high blood pressure and doctors just found a small clot in his vein. But Anaya says without the new awareness from involving his family in the program, he might have had to put off medical treatment.


Coming up, a former president takes on the obesity crisis, along with California's first lady and a champion athlete.

It really comes down to math and if you're not exercising, you have to eat less.

And there's a hidden reason behind America's losing battle with weight loss.

Most Americans would prefer to diet instead of exercise to lose weight. True or false?

That secret revealed when we come back.


GUPTA: I recently sat down with President Clinton and he blew my mind when he told me something. Just take a listen here.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think childhood obesity actually threatens to make this generation of children the first in America to have shorter lives than their parents.


GUPTA: Did you hear that? It's remarkable speaking, that completely blew me away. All of the advancements that we make in medicine and science and technology, all the billions and trillions of dollars that we spend there, all of that potentially reversed by this one fixable problem of obesity. We've all got to get up off that couch and get moving. In fact, if you only take away two things, remember this, eat less, move more. But even with that simple prescription coming from expert after expert that we talked to, you, like me, are probably astonished that P.E. classes in many school systems are being cut.

Now here's an exercise you don't expect to see a P.E. teacher do. But you see it's taco day and with resources tight in the Grand Rapids School District, the gym at Madison Park Elementary doubles as a lunchroom.

Helen Smith, like many P.E. teachers here goes above and beyond, trying to help fight what their district labels a youth obesity crisis. But it is tough. Kids here get a mere 35 minutes of physical education, not per day, but per week. And that's pretty typical for Michigan schools.

HELEN SMITH, P.E. TEACHER: We definitely have a childhood obesity problem. I mean it's huge. It's 20 to 25 percent of the kids are overweight. Nine to 15-year olds, it's an epidemic and it's only going to get worse if they don't do something about it.

GUPTA: So Smith maximizes every minute she has, she has to. Four different elementary schools call her their P.E. teacher. Rushing from school to school carrying her own equipment, she becomes a blur of activity, cramming in as much as possible into class. If quantity isn't part of the game plan, Smith hopes the quality of fitness her students get will encourage exercise outside of class.

SMITH: It's not all about athletics, it's about moving, getting them off the couch, getting them doing different things, getting them involved. Having a good time while they're doing it. Not thinking it's work.

GUPTA: Seeing a gap in kid's fitness options, other groups in Grand Rapids step in to help. This is the YMCA's Healthy U, a two year old program it hopes to bring to other communities. The Y brings its trainers and equipment to the schools for its after school programs two times a week. The other day it picks them up after school and takes them to the Y state of the art facilities. That means these kids get about four and a half extra hours of fitness and nutrition activities a week, all for free, thanks to grants and corporate sponsorships. There's kid sized exercise equipment, fitness classes, yoga.

Fill the breath as it enters your body and fills up your lungs. GUPTA: When the kids started the program, 21 percent of them already had high blood pressure. 97 percent scored poor on flexibility tests. Now both are significantly better.

JAN WIERENGA, GRAND RAPIDS YMCA: We know that the program works, obviously how we feel, it's great. But we also see that the need is much greater than what we're able to do. And so while we've been able to impact 3,000 kids, we see the need as 100,000 kids.

GUPTA: And our phys ed teacher Helen Smith agrees.

SMITH: We have a lot of couch potatoes I think, so, hopefully we can get away from that.

GUPTA: Pull the true false cards out, I got a few questions for you all. The first question we have is, most Americans would prefer to diet instead of exercise to lose weight. True or false. So you're overwhelming true guys.

Sixty-one percent of people say they'd actually prefer to exercise to lose weight, but here's the problem, while we say that, we're not doing it. 50 percent of the country is simply not getting enough exercise, 29 percent getting none. 21 percent one to two hours only. I have one more question here. 50 percent of overweight people say they would consider surgery as an option, true or false? The answer is in fact false. What they found is only about a quarter of people say they would consider surgery, and most of these people say they would only consider it as a last resort, very interesting. But here's what I found stunning. The last resort must be here. Because over the last seven years the number of weight loss surgeries have increased seven fold. And among children it has tripled.

Jonathan Hernandez was a normal size baby. His mother says he didn't start getting big until third grade. As he got bigger, he stopped going out and he stayed in his room.

JONATHAN HERNANDEZ, BARIATRIC SURGERY PATIENT: What would people think when they saw me like that. And then I was like -- and then, I didn't want them to like look at me, look at me like oh my God, look at him.

GUPTA: At 16 he weighed 402 pounds. His sleep apnea was so bad that even breathing was difficult, he had to undergo a tracheotomy.

MARYDALE MASSEY, JONATHAN'S MOTHER: He was big that it was pressing on his heart and on his chest and he couldn't breathe. He was just gasping for breath, every breath he got.

GUPTA: In two year's he's lost 90 pounds after having weight loss surgery at a new pediatric program offered in Atlanta.

DR. MARK WOLKIN, : It's a lifesaver and it's life altering for these children. I think you give them back a piece of their childhood.

GUPTA: Dr. Mark Wolkin performs bariatric or weight loss surgeries that involves inserting a band that clamps down on the stomach, restricting access. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of the so-called lap band for children 17 or under. But Wolkin believes it's safe, in part because it's reversible. The hospital says many children here are turned away. Those who do get the operation go through up to a year or more of medical testing and nutritional and family counseling before and after surgery.

Hospital officials around the country say the increased demand for adolescent weight loss surgery has prompted them to create special programs for obese kids. In fact, one surgeon here in Atlanta told us he used to get requests for surgery once a year, but now he's getting them once a-month. Weight loss surgery can cost up to $25,000, with Medicaid sometimes picking up the tab. Many of the children who we met who want the operation or who have gotten it, come from lower income families, headed by single moms. And the issues surrounding obese teens are complex and cultural. Nutrition and fitness expert Dr. Pamela Peeke urges extreme caution when it comes to surgery.

DR. PAMELA PEEKE, NUTRITION & FITNESS EXPERT: That's why it's very intense to get to them and change those habits and those attitudes. Because if you don't, if they're not exercising, my gosh, they're going to regain that weight back in no time at all.

GUPTA: Because the procedure on kids is so new, there are still many unknowns.

PEEKE: We don't have long term data outside of three to five years. And at that time, we're seeing that it appears a large number, if not a majority, are actually regaining their weight.

GUPTA: Jonathan's mother says for her son having the operation was a lifesaver.

MASSEY: That saved my baby's life.

GUPTA: And life for Jonathan sure has changed.

HERNANDEZ: Didn't used to, I hate salads, I hated them. And now I've grown to like them.

GUPTA: Going to the gym, he's now part of the program. Despite the work, Jonathan says he'd do it all again. He now has good friends, has taken a great interest in drama class and just went to his first prom. Jonathan's mother sums it up this way.

MASSEY: Now he's enjoying life to the fullest, believe me, I mean to the fullest.


A world champion athlete, California's first lady, a United States senator and a former president, lends their voice, their ideas, their help to the national health crisis of obesity.

LANCE ARMSTRONG: You have to inspire not just kids, but also adults to go out every day and do something. Can people in powerful positions really help solve the problem? Stay tuned to CNN "Fit Nation."


GUPTA: Celebrity voices I think, college students respond to celebrities. When you have the former president of the United States, when you have Lance Armstrong or the first lady of California Maria Shriver, or a senator, Senator Harkin, they've all thrown their weight, they've thrown their voice, they've thrown their energy, they've thrown their passion behind this because they think it's important. But I think even more important for us is if you take people like that and you pair them up with college students, to actually get something done, everyone wins.

I want to introduce you to somebody now who we believe has been talking about this and getting things done with regard to obesity, childhood obesity for sometime now. Professionally, personally he's lived it. Please stand, welcome the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton.

With obesity, with the problems of overweight, it's fixable. What do you say about that and how do we actually get it done?

CLINTON: Well first of all it is fixable, but in some ways it's one of the most intractable problems because it's so built into our culture. And there are lots of aspects to it. But I like to think of it as basically three problems. One is we're taking in more calories, the second is we're burning fewer, and the third is we've changed the nature of the food we eat so that it's altered our metabolism and our bodies don't operate as efficiently as they used to.

What I've tried to do with the American Heart Association, first to go into the schools to change the diets, to change the vending machines or get them out all together. And to increase the exercise levels there. We've started negotiations with the food manufacturers and with the big restaurant chains. But the fundamental facts don't change. We need to eat less, exercise more and watch the foods that change our metabolism for the worst. Well I think the hardest thing is to actually change the way people get food. And then to make sure that we have real disciplined, orderly exercise opportunities for young people.

GUPTA: Also I'm honored to have someone I consider a friend here today. Please help me welcome her to the podium, the first lady of California, Maria Shriver. When was the first time you sort of said, okay you know what, we have to do something about this here in California?

MARIA SHRIVER: Well when I started to read the figures, Californians gained 360 million pounds in the last 10 years. People perceive California to be a fit state and it's not. Almost half of our kids are overweight. And as a mother of four children I was struggling myself on how to raise healthy kids in a very fast environment when you don't have a lot of time. I'm not a great cook. So I myself saw myself kind of resorting to things that weren't so healthy. So get everybody involved and say this is a crisis, but, as you said, we can fix it.

GUPTA: What do you and the governor do to stay healthy and fit?

SHRIVER: Exercise. Exercise everyday and I think a lot of the studies have shown that if you also have kids, it's not enough to say to them go out and exercise. You have to actually model it for them. I try to eat with my kids, I try to talk to them about portion control, I try to talk to them about drinking water, I try to talk to them about not drinking too many sodas. That doesn't mean that we're eating healthy all the time in my house, because we're not. So I try to model it for my kids and try to get them going at a very early age. But it's about food, but it's also about activity. And I try to get them off of the computer and away from the television.

GUPTA: I would like to start off by just asking Senator Harkin to come up here and make a few comments.

SEN. TOM HARKIN, (D) IOWA: In America we don't have a healthcare system. We have a sick care system. If you get sick you get care. But there are very few incentives to keep you healthy in the first place. We spend very little on wellness and prevention, lifestyle changes, but boy we'll spend hundreds of billions of dollars to patch you and fix you and mend you later on. We really need to shift into healthcare and wellness and prevention in America. We can do this. We have to start early and we have to do it in a comprehensive way. It can't be done just one person -- no it has to be done in our schools, in elementary schools, in high schools, it has to be done on our college campuses, workplaces, in communities. There's a lot of things we can do, some complex, some simple. Just like taking the stairs. How about posting signs at every elevator say, the stairs are here, if you take the stairs, you'll burn up some calories.

GUPTA: Please give a University of Texas Austin stand up, welcome Lance Armstrong to the room. Why don't people pay attention to this do you think?

ARMSTRONG: For me it's an issue that's very similar to the issue I fight most of the time, which is cancer. In fact the two are so integrated that it's scary. But it's the easiest thing to fix and if you consider cancer, 50 percent of all cancers are preventable. If you consider obesity and a lack of exercise and all these things, it leads to an unhealthy lifestyle which ultimately will lead to cancer, potentially, very easy to fix. But the problem is you have to inspire not just kids, but also adults to go out every day and do something.

With anything, the most important thing you can do is be consistent. And the same goes for diets and goes for exercise and goes for lifestyle, consistency. It really comes down to math. If you're not exercising, you have to eat less. And as a cyclist, the most important thing that we could have done is be light. So if you had a short day, then you just had to eat less. If you had a six or a seven-hour day, you could pretty much eat whatever you wanted. But it all comes down to math. What you put out is what you can put in.

GUPTA: I really applaud -- everything I said when I was introducing you, I'm real serious about it, I find you an inspiration just in who you are and everything that you do. And the fact that you lend your voice to a project like this really means a lot to us.

ARMSTRONG: You betcha.

GUPTA: Lance Armstrong everybody.

Throughout history college campuses have been a place where you see really good changes start and suddenly grow to something that involves an entire society. You're our future leaders and the burden of all this healthcare in so many ways is something that you're going to have to deal with, for good or for bad. You have to be the change that you wish to see in the world and we'd like that change to start today.

ANNOUNCER (voice-over): Next, some of the nation's best and brightest take action to build a fit community, a fit town, a "Fit Nation."





ANNOUNCER: Back to "Fit Nation" with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

GUPTA: Hello. Our team has been going around campus, as I mentioned for some time now actually polling students on campuses all across the country and asking them about their breakfast. Here is some of what we heard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't have breakfast at all this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had leftover spaghetti.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really don't eat breakfast. I really don't have the time.

GUPTA: I'm sure you've heard people say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Well, there is actual scientific evidence to back that up.

Eating a healthy breakfast, especially one that includes fruit and whole grains can help in your efforts to maintain a healthy diet throughout the entire day and it helps with weight loss efforts as well because some research shows people who eat a healthy breakfast consume fewer calories throughout the rest of the day and now there is new emerging evidence that show people who eat a good breakfast also live longer.

Our relationship with food has got to be a healthy one. Ask yourself this. What obstacles stand between me and a healthy diet. What one small step can I take today to eat just a little bit better? Here are some ideas. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Within the culture there is an attitude problem. We have to change the attitude to be in approval of fitness, an approval of dieting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is important we accept the fact that we are responsible for everything to do and we are responsible for everything we eat. This is your life. Be in control of your life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Much like the government mandates nutritional labels on food, middle and high schools should be required to display nutritional information such as amount of calories, carbohydrates, fat, sodium, etc. So that students can make informed choices each time they eat.

GUPTA: We are seeing some really good things happen around the country as well. But as an example, some of the good work we found going on right here in California.

(voice-over): Nestled behind what looks like a typical urban middle school playground lies an unexpected paradise. A not so secret garden grown completely by young teens.

Berkeley's Martin Luther King Middle School made national headlines when it embraced the edible schoolyard. A program integrating lessons about gardening, cooking and a passion for healthy food into just about every class.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does anyone know what this is?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is parsley, exactly. Flat leaf parsley.

GUPTA: It is the brainchild of a world famous Berkeley restaurant owner, Alice Waters. Waters started edible schoolyard, worried about the children's relationship with food.

ALICE WATERS, EXECUTIVE CHEF: Children are learning sort of out there in fast food nation. We need to reconnect food with agriculture and culture in a pleasurable way.

GUPTA: But the edible schoolyard is only in one school. The district actually seemed to be teaching children at other schools the opposite lesson about food.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Grilled cheese sandwiches came for play. Chef for 33 years I didn't know grilled cheese sandwiches came in plastic bags.

GUPTA: But last fall, Waters' foundation brought in an executive chef who calls herself the renegade lunch lady. From her cramped cooking command center, Anne Cooper (ph) spreads the good food gospel to the entire district. In mere months, Cooper radically reshaped the menu. Fried and processed foods gone. Trans fat out. What's in? Steamed veggies. A kid sized salad bar. Organic muffins, fresh fruit and even brown rice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are not trying to serve restaurant food. It's no lobster, sushi, napoleons. It's just spaghetti with meat sauce and turkey and gravy and I'm serving food kids will like and also that taste goods and is healthy for them.

GUPTA: So good kids actually stand in line to eat their vegetables. The USDA which regulates school food programs and has closely watched this one says nationwide school food is improving. It's a slow process but change is essential.

ROBERTO SALAZAR, USDA ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL FOOD AND NUTRITION SERVICE: We recognize this growing epidemic of obesity, if you will, has been occurring over the past 30 years. And so it's reasonable to expect it is going to take time to turn it around.

GUPTA: Cooper hopes her program will speed up the process and one day other districts will use hers as a model.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I think if we can do it everybody can do it.

GUPTA (on camera): President Clinton told us right off the top that we are not trying to change the world here. What we're trying to find is some small, very inspirational stories that actually lead to huge changes. For example, a renegade lunch lady who takes it upon herself to say, you know what, the foods they are serving in school is killing us. It's literally killing America's future.

Or a woman who decides to start a sugar-free school. Because sugar is probably part of the problem. How do we correct it at the core level? Simple, simple changes that lead to huge changes and I guarantee you this, save some lives in the end.

(voice-over): Inside this red brick schoolhouse is a sugar-free zone. When Principal Yvonne Sanders-Butler arrived at Browns Mill Elementary School eight years ago, she says she noticed something. A direct link between diet and academic performance.

YVONNE SANDERS-BUTLER, PRINCIPAL, BROWNS MILL ELEMENTARY: I saw kids very overweight. I saw a large percentage of kids coming to the clinic for headaches and stomach aches even before we started class. I would look at what they would eat in the morning or what they would not eat.

GUPTA: Butler could relate. At one time her nickname was sugar woman. She remembers feeling high after first tasting chocolate milk at school in rural Mississippi. Her sharecropper parents served food they grew. But her mother was also known for baking sugary treats.

As an adult, Butler packed on the pounds. At age 39 she was obese and she was in trouble. Dangerously high blood pressure. Joint pain from the weight, almost suffered a stroke. After 20 years of yo- yo dieting, Butler joined Overeaters Anonymous and started to take control.

SANDERS-BUTLER: It's a lifestyle change. There is no magic bullet. There is common sense.

GUPTA: That is a lesson she brought to Browns Mill.

SANDERS-BUTLER: We took out everything that was obviously sugar. We took out chocolate milk, we took out sugary deserts, we took out ice cream. Children were more on task, more attentive in class during class time. The other thing we saw, our test scores increase by 10 percent.

GUPTA: Children at Browns Mill now start their day with stretching, lots of exercise and lunches with whole wheat bread, fruits and vegetables. The Georgia Department of Education says the best approach to combating obesity in elementary school is a greater emphasis on nutrition education on food for students and their parents. Yvonne Sanders-Butler says she knows some may see her approach as radical.

But she is out to change the world one child at a time.

SANDERS-BUTLER: We all have sort of like a treadmill life so we are just trying to maximize the moment. I know that we can do that and still be healthy.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, it's not just eating too much that's a problem, it's that we're moving too little. Can we fix it? Two new programs for kids and adults that just may be the answer you have been looking for. Ideas to get you and your family off the couch and in shape next on CNN's "Fit Nation." First, look at these real human bodies on display that graphically show the dangers of being overweight.

GUPTA (on camera): This is obviously a thin person and this is an obese person. I believe they say this person weighed 580 pounds when they were alive. This person weighed 140 pounds. What springs to your mind when you see an obese person like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can just see the extra weight they're carring around. Imagine, the heart is the same size, the heart has to do the same work. This person who is three times as heavy as this.

GUPTA: When you think about fat, you think about people getting obese, you think about it right here on your hips.

But you can actually see the fat getting into someone's heart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A person who is really fat and obese has a heart covered with fat and it also infiltrates into the muscle.

ANNOUNCER: Stay tuned to CNN "Fit Nation.




ANNOUNCER: Now back to "Fit Nation," with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

GUPTA: When it comes to childhood obesity it seems like everyone is talking about but we heard a couple of good pears as we went on tour.

We found out a simple thing. If it is not fun, it is not going to work when it comes to young people, when it comes to kids.

That's why we were so struck by this one program called marathon kids. It is a really fun program that actually gets young people running a marathon. They don't do it all in one day. And they probably shouldn't. But they do it over a few months.

And I can tell you they have a lot of fun doing it. And it's pretty healthy as well.

(voice-over): It wasn't an Olympic ceremony but for these medal recipients, it was just as inspiring. Some kids ran, some walked. Fast kids, slow kids, overweight kids, disabled and blind kids, all of these kids completed a 26.2 mile marathon not in one day but over a period of six months. All of these marathon kids were all gold medalists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I congratulate each one of you kids for running, walking 26.2 miles, for eating those fruits and vegetables..

GUPTA: Founder Kay Morris says the idea is to have young kids embrace health and fitness in their everyday lives.

KAY MORRIS, MARATHON KIDS FOUNDER: Our mission is to move kids who are at risk of being sedentary. And we already recognize that a lot of children are not out5 there moving around as much as they used to. This gives them a vehicle that really resonates with them and with their families. And we're trying to build a habit.

GUPTA: Kay held the first event 10 years ago with about 10,000 kids in Austin, Texas, led by the man who went on to win seven Tour de Frances, Lance Armstrong. Today some 100,000 across Texas and the United States have registered to be marathon kids.

JORDAN HAYS-BAKER, MARATHON KIDS PARTICIPANT: So you see the white bread and unhealthy cereals at my house but now we're eating really healthy.

JOURDAN TUCKER, MARATHON KIDS PARTICIPANT: At school sometimes we go to the track. And when I am on the playground at school, sometimes I run around there a lot.

GUPTA: And for Jeff Tucker, being a marathon kid's dad had fringe benefits.

JEFF TUCKER, P.E. TEACHER: I started being active, a little bit at a time, adding to it, making -- changing my food from less healthy to more healthy and to this day I've lost 88 pounds in about six months. I feel like now I can really teach from my heart, because in the past I have asked kids to do a lot of things. Looking at me, it was evident I was not practicing what I was preaching.

GUPTA: Every marathon kid is a winner.

(on camera): When you watch programs like this I hope that everybody realizes that they have their own part to do here. Nobody is immune. We are not pointing to government, we are not pointing to big business, we are not pointing to celebrities or doctors, saying it is your fault.

Everybody has a role in terms of trying to curb this problem. What we are hoping is you realize it is solvable, it is fixable. There isn't something you just throw up your hands and say there is nothing we can do about it. You can and these programs are a great example of that.

(voice-over): This was Iowa's homegrown version of those other games, the annual Iowa Games.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have 50 sports, everything from, I say, A to W, archery to wrestling, but we have equestrian, we have soccer, we have basketball, baseball, track and field.

GUPTA: But there is one thing different about these games. They are not about winning. The Iowa Games are about losing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I lost 156 pounds.

GUPTA: The games began 20 years ago as a venue for fun and competition. But a growing obesity epidemic caused a sea change. The games sponsors shifted the emphasis to getting active.

JIM HALLIHAN, DIRECTOR, IOWA GAMES: We've got to provide an environment where people have fun doing it. And they don't realize it but they are moving around a lot and being very active.

GUPTA: During the past four decades, obesity levels in Iowa have been steadily rising. According to the Iowa Health Department, 61 percent of the adults in Iowa are either overweight or obese. Only 12 states have a higher percentage of overweight adults.

Concern about obesity in this state spawned another program in 2003 sponsored by the same group that puts on the games. Lighten Up, Iowa. It stresses teamwork. People sign up for a five-month health program where they and their teammates get ideas about how to be more active and healthier. The idea has caught on.

HALLIHAN: Two years ago we had 85 people. Last year we had 19,300 people who lost 93,000 pounds and logged 4.6 million miles of activity.

GUPTA: Back at the games, a father and son team have been carving up the slope at Iowa's Winter Games for the past several years.

TROY ROBBINS, IOWA WINTER GAMES PARTICIPANT: My dad and I are pretty competitive, whether skiing or losing weight. So we both kind of jumped on the boat and started losing weight together. And each week we had to outdo each other.

GUPTA: The competition has paid off.

GARY ROBBINS, IOWA WINTER GAMES PARTICIPANT: We lost a couple hundred pounds total. It is time for Troy and I to bond together. And we just have a great time doing it.

GUPTA: At this year's games more than 20,000 participated and that translates to potentially thousands of pounds of weight loss.

ANNOUNCER: Ready to join CNN's "Fit Nation"? Get more information at




GUPTA: I hope you found some of our "Fit Nation" checklist tips motivational and helpful. Here again is a look at the full list.

Learn your family health history. Make fitness fun and part of your daily routine. 30 minutes a day most days of the week is recommended for good health. But you might need more if you are trying to lose weight. Drink water. It is important to stay hydrated, and water helps you get that feeling of full and fights off hunger pain. Set an example for your family. Go ahead and make some small change today, like taking the stairs instead of an elevator.

Be dedicated and consistent in the healthy choices you make. Don't give up or get discouraged with setbacks. Do the math. It is really all about the calories you consume and the calories you burn each and every day. Eat a healthy breakfast and involve the whole family in healthy eating and fitness. It is important for all of us, no matter how young or old. You can find this check list and more information at

ANNOUNCER: Now back to "Fit Nation" with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

GUPTA (on camera): We try not to throw a lot of numbers at people. We try not to throw a lot of data at people. We are just trying to highlight what we think is a very fixable problem, a problem, that if we solve will make America a healthier place, will make America a more functional, will make America a happier place. You don't need to be a scientist to fix this problem, you don't need to be a celebrity, a dignitary. You just need to be you and recognize that this is important.

So tomorrow go for a walk with your family instead of watching television. Eat a healthier meal. Try to eat less and move more. And together we can build a more fit nation. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.



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