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Houston Sheds Title as Nation's Fattest City

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Jan. 2--Please pass the chips and cheese, Houston no longer tops a national magazine's list of fattest cities in America.

After three years at the top of Men's Fitness list of "fattest cities" in America, Clutch City dropped from first to second in the 2004 list. Detroit, with its colder climate and jump in television viewing, moved to the top spot.

The end-of-the year news brought a sense of pride to civic leaders, who credited the accomplishment to initiatives created under Mayor Lee Brown's Get Lean Houston program and the work of fitness czar and former Mr. Universe Lee Labrada. Labrada, who was criticized for using the city's fitness Web site to sell his supplements, has a 28-inch waist and 6 percent body fat.

"This is one championship title I don't mind giving up to another city," said City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado. "Congratulations, Detroit."

As good as the news is for Houston, Texas still can be the butt of "your momma's so fat" jokes because Dallas, San Antonio and Fort Worth have moved up in the list, putting on weight faster than Renee Zellweger prepping for her role in Bridget Jones's Diary.

Dallas ballooned from last year's ninth fattest city to third; San Antonio went from 13th place to fourth; and Fort Worth jumped from being ranked 16th to sixth. Perhaps the folks in Texas are just big boned.

Men's Fitness has published the report for six years. The list of top 25 fittest and fattest cities will appear in the February issue, which hits newsstands this month. The cover features a photo of shirtless and extremely buffed NBA basketball player Karl Malone.

Peter Sikowitz, the magazine's editor-in-chief, applauded Houston's efforts to get fitter. Sikowitz said the city has improved in its sports participation and promoted better nutritional habits.

To determine the top 25 fattest cities, the magazine assessed the 50 largest cities in 14 categories including air quality, climate, commute time, total number of fast-food and pizza restaurants, and number of health clubs and sporting goods stores.

"Habits are hard to change. For a city to go down a notch, it's significant," said Sikowitz. "It's not just a matter of vanity but it's about well-being. It's really about quality of life."

While some Houstonians may have ignored the list, opting instead to watch more of the Food Network while chowing down on a fast-food super-size value meal, some Houstonians took the "'hey, fatty" label to heart.

When state Sen. Mario Gallegos first heard the news about Houston's fattest city title it hit him in the gut like his favorite sinful foods -- coconut cream pie from the House of Pies and Mexican sweet bread. Gallegos admitted Wednesday that he had put on a few pounds since his days as a firefighter and a basketball forward.

So in 2002 he started his own diet plan. Bread and carbohydrates were out. He went from a high of 285 to about 250 pounds. He is still watching what he eats but admits that he didn't stick to the diet plan during the holiday season.

"I was getting big," Gallegos said. "Now it's nice to see the belt hang out like a tongue."

With Houston changing its oversized ways, Labrada said Wednesday he plans to take the health and fitness campaign he created for the Bayou City to a national audience.

"It's not one city's problem, it's America's problem," said Labrada, referring to the nation's obesity rate. "People needed to know there was a problem. There's still work to be done."


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(c) 2004, Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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