How an obese town lost a million pounds | Mick Cornett

How an obese town lost a million pounds | Mick Cornett

How many of you have been to Oklahoma City? Raise your hand. Yeah? How many of you have not been to Oklahoma City and have no idea who I am? (Laughter) Most of you. Let me give you
a little bit of background. Oklahoma City started in the most unique way imaginable. Back on a spring day in 1889, the federal government held what they called a land run. They literally lined up the settlers along an imaginary line, and they fired off a gun, and the settlers roared across the countryside and put down a stake, and wherever they put down that stake, that was their new home. And at the end of the very first day, the population of Oklahoma City had gone from zero to 10,000, and our planning department is still paying for that. The citizens got together on that first day and elected a mayor. And then they shot him. (Laughter) That’s not really all that funny — (Laughter) — but it allows me to see what type of audience I’m dealing with, so I appreciate the feedback. The 20th century was fairly kind to Oklahoma City. Our economy was based on commodities, so the price of cotton or the price of wheat, and ultimately the price of oil and natural gas. And along the way, we became a city of innovation. The shopping cart was invented in Oklahoma City. (Applause) The parking meter, invented in Oklahoma City. You’re welcome. Having an economy, though, that relates to commodities
can give you some ups and some downs, and that was certainly the case
in Oklahoma City’s history. In the 1970s, when it appeared that the price of energy would never retreat, our economy was soaring, and then in the early 1980s, it cratered quickly. The price of energy dropped. Our banks began to fail. Before the end of the decade, 100 banks had failed in the state of Oklahoma. There was no bailout on the horizon. Our banking industry, our oil and gas industry, our commercial real estate industry, were all at the bottom of the economic scale. Young people were leaving Oklahoma City in droves for Washington and Dallas and Houston
and New York and Tokyo, anywhere where they could
find a job that measured up to their educational attainment, because in Oklahoma City,
the good jobs just weren’t there. But along at the end of the ’80s came an enterprising businessman who became mayor named Ron Norick. Ron Norick eventually figured out that the secret to economic development wasn’t incentivizing companies up front, it was about creating a place
where businesses wanted to locate, and so he pushed an initiative called MAPS that basically was a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax to build a bunch of stuff. It built a new sports arena, a new canal downtown, it fixed up our performing arts center, a new baseball stadium downtown, a lot of things to improve the quality of life. And the economy indeed seemed to start showing some signs of life. The next mayor came along. He started MAPS for Kids, rebuilt the entire inner city school system, all 75 buildings either built anew or refurbished. And then, in 2004, in this rare collective lack of judgment bordering on civil disobedience, the citizens elected me mayor. Now the city I inherited was just on the verge of coming out of its slumbering economy, and for the very first time, we started showing up on the lists. Now you know the lists I’m talking about. The media and the Internet love to rank cities. And in Oklahoma City, we’d never really been on lists before. So I thought it was kind of cool when they came out with these
positive lists and we were on there. We weren’t anywhere close to the top, but we were on the list, we were somebody. Best city to get a job, best city to start a business, best downtown — Oklahoma City. And then came the list of the most obese cities in the country. And there we were. Now I like to point out that we were on that list with a lot of really cool places. (Laughter) Dallas and Houston and New Orleans and Atlanta and Miami. You know, these are cities that, typically, you’re not embarrassed to be associated with. But nonetheless, I didn’t like being on the list. And about that time, I got on the scales. And I weighed 220 pounds. And then I went to this website sponsored by the federal government, and I typed in my height, I typed in my weight, and I pushed Enter, and it came back and said “obese.” I thought, “What a stupid website.” (Laughter) “I’m not obese. I would know if I was obese.” And then I started getting honest with myself about what had become
my lifelong struggle with obesity, and I noticed this pattern, that I was gaining about two or three pounds a year, and then about every 10 years,
I’d drop 20 or 30 pounds. And then I’d do it again. And I had this huge closet full of clothes, and I could only wear a third of it at any one time, and only I knew which part of the closet I could wear. But it all seemed fairly normal, going through it. Well, I finally decided I needed to lose weight, and I knew I could because
I’d done it so many times before, so I simply stopped eating as much. I had always exercised. That really wasn’t the part of the equation that I needed to work on. But I had been eating 3,000 calories a day, and I cut it to 2,000 calories a day, and the weight came off. I lost about a pound a week for about 40 weeks. Along the way, though, I started examining my city, its culture, its infrastructure, trying to figure out why our specific city seemed to have a problem with obesity. And I came to the conclusion that we had built an incredible quality of life if you happen to be a car. (Laughter) But if you happen to be a person, you are combatting the car seemingly at every turn. Our city is very spread out. We have a great intersection of highways, I mean, literally no traffic congestion
in Oklahoma City to speak of. And so people live far, far away. Our city limits are enormous, 620 square miles, but 15 miles is less than 15 minutes. You literally can get a speeding ticket during rush hour in Oklahoma City. And as a result, people tend to spread out. Land’s cheap. We had also not required developers to build sidewalks on new developments
for a long, long time. We had fixed that, but it had been relatively recently, and there were literally 100,000 or more homes into our inventory in neighborhoods that had
virtually no level of walkability. And as I tried to examine how we might deal with obesity, and was taking all of these elements into my mind, I decided that the first thing we need to do was have a conversation. You see, in Oklahoma City, we weren’t talking about obesity. And so, on New Year’s Eve of 2007, I went to the zoo, and I stood in front of the elephants, and I said, “This city is going on a diet, and we’re going to lose a million pounds.” Well, that’s when all hell broke loose. (Laughter) The national media gravitated toward this story immediately, and they really could have
gone with it one of two ways. They could have said, “This city is so fat that the mayor had to put them on a diet.” But fortunately, the consensus was, “Look, this is a problem in a lot of places. This is a city that’s wanting
to do something about it.” And so they started helping us drive traffic to the website. Now, the web address was And I appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” one weekday morning to talk about the initiative, and on that day, 150,000 visits were placed to our website. People were signing up, and so the pounds started to add up, and the conversation that I thought was so important to have was starting to take place. It was taking place inside the homes, mothers and fathers talking about it with their kids. It was taking place in churches. Churches were starting their own running groups and their own support groups for people who were dealing with obesity. Suddenly, it was a topic worth discussing at schools and in the workplace. And the large companies, they typically have wonderful wellness programs, but the medium-sized companies that typically fall between the cracks
on issues like this, they started to get engaged and used our program as a model for their own employees to try and have contests to see who might be able to deal with their obesity situation in a way that could be proactively
beneficial to others. And then came the next stage of the equation. It was time to push what I called MAPS 3. Now MAPS 3, like the other two programs, had had an economic development motive behind it, but along with the traditional
economic development tasks like building a new convention center, we added some health-related infrastructure to the process. We added a new central park, 70 acres in size, to be right downtown in Oklahoma City. We’re building a downtown streetcar to try and help the walkability formula for people who choose to live in the inner city and help us create the density there. We’re building senior health and wellness centers throughout the community. We put some investments on the river that had originally been invested upon in the original MAPS, and now we are currently in the final stages of developing the finest venue in the world for the sports of canoe, kayak and rowing. We hosted the Olympic trials last spring. We have Olympic-caliber events
coming to Oklahoma City, and athletes from all over the world moving in, along with inner city programs to get kids more engaged in these
types of recreational activities that are a little bit nontraditional. We also, with another initiative that was passed, are building hundreds of miles of new sidewalks throughout the metro area. We’re even going back into some inner city situations where we had built neighborhoods and we had built schools but we had not connected the two. We had built libraries and
we had built neighborhoods, but we had never really connected the two with any sort of walkability. Through yet another funding source, we’re redesigning all of our inner city streets to be more pedestrian-friendly. Our streets were really wide, and you’d push the button
to allow you to walk across, and you had to run in order to get there in time. But now we’ve narrowed the streets, highly landscaped them, making them
more pedestrian-friendly, really a redesign, rethinking the way we build our infrastructure, designing a city around people and not cars. We’re completing our bicycle trail master plan. We’ll have over 100 miles when we’re through building it out. And so you see this culture starting to shift in Oklahoma City. And lo and behold, the demographic changes that are coming with it are very inspiring. Highly educated twentysomethings are moving to Oklahoma City from all over the region and, indeed, even from further away, in California. When we reached a million pounds, in January of 2012, I flew to New York with some our participants who had lost over 100 pounds, whose lives had been changed, and we appeared on the Rachael Ray show, and then that afternoon,
I did a round of media in New York pushing the same messages that you’re accustomed to hearing
about obesity and the dangers of it. And I went into the lobby of Men’s Fitness magazine, the same magazine that had put us on that list five years before. And as I’m sitting in the lobby
waiting to talk to the reporter, I notice there’s a magazine copy of the current issue right there on the table, and I pick it up, and I look at the headline across the top, and it says, “America’s Fattest Cities: Do You Live in One?” Well, I knew I did, so I picked up the magazine and I began to look, and we weren’t on it. (Applause) Then I looked on the list of fittest cities, and we were on that list. We were on the list as the 22nd
fittest city in the United States. Our state health statistics are doing better. Granted, we have a long way to go. Health is still not something that we should be proud of in Oklahoma City, but we seem to have turned the cultural shift of making health a greater priority. And we love the idea of the demographics of highly educated twentysomethings, people with choices, choosing Oklahoma City in large numbers. We have the lowest unemployment
in the United States, probably the strongest economy in the United States. And if you’re like me, at some point in your educational career, you were asked to read a book called “The Grapes of Wrath.” Oklahomans leaving for California in large numbers for a better future. When we look at the demographic shifts of people coming from the west, it appears that what we’re seeing now is the wrath of grapes. (Laughter) (Applause) The grandchildren are coming home. You’ve been a great audience and very attentive. Thank you very much for having me here. (Applause)

68 thoughts on “How an obese town lost a million pounds | Mick Cornett

  1. Okc is full of fat people because it is impossible to walk anywhere. If those dumb hicks knew how to build a city we wouldnt have this problem. This guy is just another far right extremist like every other oklahoma politician.

  2. They wanted to make Oklahoma City a place where businesses want to be by building stadiums on the Tax Payer's dime and that seemed to improve the economy? Ummm… that is temporary and not supported by the market. Those huge projects seem to help the economy because a huge amount of time and resources are necessary to make it happen, but once it is built, all you have is a stadium that nobody wanted enough to build on their own and like many stadiums will be a long-term money sieve. 

  3. It seems to me that while many politicians are working hard on the difficult issues of health, economy, etc, they are neglecting a lot of the power they have for social good.  Not this guy.

  4. I'm definitely for this. Also fitness and health are not tied in the way people think. The food culture needs to change as well as the activity culture. This has a bunch of positives, but we can not over look the issue of dietary health. Problem is it's so argued about what is ideal that we can never agree upon a standard that fits science. 

  5. Take a look, Mr. Bloomberg — this is how a mayor properly governs and improves his city, not with paternalism or restrictions on commercial choices but with inspiration and by challenging them to improve their own lives. In this regard, Oklahoma City is a model of American self-government. Good for you, Mr. Mayor! Well done.

  6. Whether it's in designing a product, inventing a new sport, or making a fine-a** meal, I'm going to focus on the person receiving the thing over the thing the thing itself 😀

  7. If, and I have to say 'if ' because politicians can dizzy-spin stats like a ride at the fair, so if this is true then not only congrats but hopefully at the next Mayors' Conference he will make a challenge.  Before smoking was outlawed in most public areas these same obese people were screaming that smokers were killing them, their kids, and hiking health costs.  Now they are killing their own children with burgers, pizza and chicken nuggets and not a peep out of them.  It's called 'child abuse'.  Go to your local fast food place and watch as mothers shove nuggets down the gullet of their 200 lb 12 year old.  Where are the laws against killing your kid by the time they're 25?

  8. inspiring story. Although i wonder what will happen if every city in america does something about obesity. Will the magazines stop publishing the fattest list and only print the fittest ranking. Some places will always be fattest by comparison to others.
    Although before they worry about that they need to stop using BMI

  9. He is saying one important thing: an initiative comes from the top (the rest will follow)! In this case, it was a good initiative. Kudos for that one.

  10. Having grown up in OKC, I can attest to the effectiveness of the MAPS programs. That, coupled with our acquisition of the Thunder Basketball team, makes the city a really cool place to be in, especially downtown!

  11. Patting oneself on the back. A politician, go figure. Idiots that think they can solve everything with extorted money from individuals. Not saying he is one of the "bad" politicians, i'll reserve that judgment but most politicians are garbage of people- they do more harm that good. In the private sector, they wouldn't be worth hiring or would go bankrupt as business owners.

    To add though, he is a republican who respects the free market. One could expect well if he was true to his word will always make better decisions. on managing cities. It's not about doing a shit-ton more or controlling people, but being their to help, help direct needs and be fiscally responsible.

  12. Mick Cornett, Mayor of Okalhoma City presents a riveting case of how the innovative thinking administrators of the city (including himself) paved the way for their city regain confidence and changed the perception of the world. A must watch for the people who want to think different and think inventively.

  13. Nice job!  Anyone moving from CA is hopefully a conservative – and good riddance.  If they're not right wing or religious, they'll probably be returning.  But I do think it's great that people there are able to do something healthy together.

  14. Lol… The Grapes of Wrath/ The Wrath of Grapes…
    I enjoyed his talk. A diligent Major doing a great job with his town. Now, if only Oklahoma had California's weather and beaches…:P

  15. A part of the world is dying of hunger… another part is trying to lose weight because they have too much. The world we live in. 

  16. Well, I think Mick Cornett is assuming correlation is causation. The reason Oklahoma City is doing well is exactly the reason it was doing well in the 1970's. The oil and gas industry is doing very well. If the price of oil drops like it did in the 1980's and 1990's. The economy of Oklahoma City would tank. People aren't moving here because of our downtown. They are moving here for jobs. California is doing all those things Mick is talking about, but young educated people are leaving there in droves. Its a nice story, but its all bullcrap.

  17. Secondly, I think Mick Cornett is being selective in some of his statistics, or is manipulating them. In 2011 and 2012 there was a decline in the obesity rate in Oklahoma. But 2013 is higher than its ever been. Oklahoma City might not mirror that obesity rate exactly. But it could be more from a result of demographic changes, rather than people actually losing weight. For instance, I think Oklahoma city proper is getting younger. I don't think its getting thinner. Unless it is a result of our abundance of meth addicts.

  18. I LOVED this!! Go OKC

    We all need to take a page…but what happened? USA is still top 3 in the world for obesity

  19. This talk brought tears to my eyes. I am happy that influential people are concerned about the health of cities and making positive strides in making cities more people-friendly and are changing people's perspectives on leading healthy lives.

  20. The toothbrush was invented in TX..  because if it was invented anywhere else… it would have been called a teethbrush      XD

  21. Use those wide streets to install proper bicycle infrastructure and really show America how it should be done. Walkablity is great but add cyclability and you've really got something.

  22. How many Indians were murdered so they could have a land run on their land? I did not find his intro story amusing.

  23. See now this guy is a good politician, he sells you on his city well, makes good points, tells you he isn't perfect, but he's trying. 

  24. A fantastic talk. Great to see a mayor directing funds to worthwhile projects to prevent disease and educate the public as well as subconsciously engage them in physical activity. Too many would build more hospitals that are understaffed and under funded. It's a great demonstration of how a city should be human centred rather than can centred. Highly logical!

  25. he doesnt talk about diet at all in this video and said 1 sentence about making the infrastructure more bike friendly.

  26. this is second or third time i ever seen my mayor. glad he's my mayor and they JUST built the sidewalks by my house

  27. Вот как, оказывается, инфраструктура может влиять на образ жизни людей. Кто бы мог подумать. Гениально! Отличная речь!

  28. This is such a fascinating guy. Though I have such different views on cultural issues (I am pro-choice), I think it’s great that he wants to improve infrastructure. He’s also dedicated lots of funding to inner city schools and improving walkability. With a tax. I totally support that, and it seems so odd for a Republican politician. And don’t forget about him promoting health. That’s honestly the best way to lower healthcare costs. So much good stuff.

  29. The fattest thing in Oklahoma City is the space between chamber-of-commerce lackey Mick Cornett's ears. He's an empty suit. Make no mistake that the REAL story here is not nearly so much the expensive, illusory, blue-neon-lit nonsense built downtown – but the fabulous – in fact nearly peerless – historic rail assets deliberately destroyed by the big shots here with cover given by "their favorite mayor."

  30. How do something important & real, like get people to go vegan to end the forced breeding & murder of billions of animals in factory farms & the meat industry? Stop forcing YOUR lifestyles onto the innocent animals.

  31. Nobody forces other people to get fat. As long as smug self-righteous free market anarchist captialist assholes think they are "superior" or "better" than socialists or communists just for holding a different economic belief,
    as long as smug self-righteous Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) deniers deny the proved theory of AGW,
    as long as smug self-righteous christurds/christians deny the proved theory of evolution,
    as long as smug self-righteous flatturds deny the proved theory of oblate spheroid earth
    then nobody has ANY obligation to agree with self-righteous anti-fat people's story that obesity is a health problem
    or agree with self-righteous anti-fat thin asshole's belief that they are "superior" or "better" than fat people.

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