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A Message with Some Heft

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WASHINGTON-When U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson walked up to the podium at the recent 2003 National Food Policy Conference here, he carried out more than one routine task.

Besides making a speech to industry executives and consumer activists alike-never a problem for the folksy ex-governor of Wisconsin-he was recording every step with an electronic pedometer.

"I've asked everyone in HHS to go on a diet," said Thompson, referring to the 65,500 workers in his department, which spends 23 cents of every government dollar on public health services. "If we are going to talk healthy, we need to look the part. I lost 15 pounds (in about a year). I need to lose another 10 pounds."

Thompson's goal is to log an extra 2,000 daily steps, following the lead of a physical activity program created by University of Colorado Health Sciences Center professor James Hill.

Hill contends walking an additional 2,000 steps each day burns 100 calories and prevents the typical annual weight gain of at least 1 1/2 to 2 pounds among adult Americans. "I want people to do things they haven't done in years," said Thompson, who has reduced the rice, potatoes and bread in his daily meals as an added weight-loss strategy.

Thompson told the conference attendees he intends to start competitions among cities to determine which one is healthiest. Winning cities would receive substantial monetary awards.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley might be intrigued. Chicago fared poorly in a recent health magazine rating (second-worst only to Houston), yet Daley is praised as a mayor who supports urban cycling and other physical activity initiatives.

Talking to reporters after his speech, Thompson suggested similar competitions among brands such as PepsiCo, McDonald's and Wendy's.

"I'm going to start giving out awards (to companies) and singling out ones that are doing good and ones that aren't," Thompson said. "If I get in trouble, I get in trouble."


(c) 2003, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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