Pounds melt across nation
It appears The Nevada County Meltdown could be part of a larger American movement to shed pounds en masse in the wake of recent national obesity studies.
The Union columnist Carole Carson’s idea to have community members get healthy together has recently occurred in similar forms in Carson City, Nev., Great Falls, Mont. and Garden City, Kan. Each effort differs in length and size as much as the participants but the idea is central; lose weight, get fit and have fun doing it.
About 400 people showed up Saturday at the Nevada Union cafeteria for the local Meltdown’s “spillover” event. The Jan. 6 initial meltdown meeting filled the 450-capacity Don Baggett Theatre with hundreds turned away. Another 100 or so showed up Saturday at the South Yuba Club in Nevada City; they hadn’t received word that the venue had been changed.
Carson was initially motivated by an Associated Press story she was shown about the “Corporate Meltdown” held the past few years in Garden City. “It triggered doing something at the community level,” she said.
Garden City’s business-inspired meltdown involved 150 people. Great Falls had about 200-300 turn out last summer for its more informal “100 Days of Fun and Fitness,” which grew out of a reporting project called “Shape Up Montana,” by the Great Falls Tribune.
Carson City’s “Great American Weight Loss Challenge,” was also inspired by a newspaper, the area’s Nevada Appeal. Two thousand people jammed a city park to join it last fall and 1,800 completed the program.
About 700 people turned out to sign up for weight loss teams Tuesday for The Nevada County Meltdown. The response was so overwhelming that a second sign-up had to be held Saturday, resulting in a total of about 900 committed to the Meltdown for the next eight weeks.
The local effort involves prizes for the teams that lose the most weight. They will be climbing on the scale every Tuesday until Feb. 24 and listening to a variety of health and fitness speakers, who are there to motivate them.
Garden City is a community of 28,000 on the southwestern Kansas plain surrounded by wheat fields and cattle. The people speak with a slight twang and they are Midwestern friendly.
“This will be our fifth year,” said Karen Gerstner, assistant director of the Garden City Recreation Commission, of their upcoming meltdown. “We just wanted to make it fun to lose weight after the first of the year.”
With the help of a state grant and a fee of $20 apiece, participants work out at city facilities and a local community college. The money pays for awards and a free cholesterol screening.
“The big thing is the team concept,” Gerstner said. “We have bankers, our own staff, teams from the college and day-care workers – all kinds of folks.”
Gerstner said weighing in as a team is key to the program. “They know what the team weighs but not how much someone else weighs,” she said.
One person who joined last year’s Garden City meltdown may have saved his own life.
Inspired by his boss to join because of his weight and a family history of heart attacks, car salesman Jim Clanton lost 20 pounds in seven weeks. But his vital signs had not improved, so he decided to go the doctor for the first time in years.
“My cholesterol was out of whack,” Clanton said. “I took it seriously.”
The doctor also found four arteries of his heart blocked, ranging from 55 to 90 percent.
“On June 30, I had a quadruple bypass” and was glad he had not ended up like his father, who had a heart attack that destroyed almost half of the organ. “I was real close. I was fortunate,” Clanton said.
He gave up his daily fast-food lunch and took up the long walks he had enjoyed earlier in life. “I do a regular walk of two to three miles a day, five days a week,” he said. “I’ve lost 35 pounds now.”
Carson City is the capital of Nevada, a town of 53,000 that used to be somewhat sleepy. Now it is part of growing population area including Truckee, Lake Tahoe, Reno and Gardnerville, areas that are growing toward each other and slowly becoming a metropolis.
A nonprofit health organization aligned with Carson-Tahoe Hospital decided to start the weight loss challenge in conjunction with the Nevada Appeal, a fitness club and radio stations.
When 2,000 people showed up on the first day, organizers were astounded.
“We had no idea we would get that many people,” said challenge volunteer Leona Bomar. “We were not prepared, it was overwhelming.”
Like the Nevada County Meltdown, organizers had to scramble to make things work, but they did with weekly weigh-ins and health lectures, Bomar said. “We had trophies given out for the most weight loss” per team.
They also had some great team names, including Hefty Hotties, Tons of Fun, Thinning the Herd and Flubber Duckies.
“They made it fun,” Bomar said. “It just made people aware of being a little healthier and eating better.”
The Missouri River runs through this town of 60,000, and there are five falls over a 10-mile stretch. It is Big Sky Country, prone to snowy winters.
Business magazine Expansion Management calls Great Falls one of the best places in the U.S. to relocate a business because of its educated work force and ability to get goods through U.S. customs quickly. FedEx has just opened a major hub there.
Early last year at the Great Falls Tribune, editors and reporters decided to do an in-depth look at America’s growing obesity problem. It turned into a year-long journalistic project.
“We wanted to see if Montana had the same problem,” said editor Linda Caricaburu. A series of articles on school lunches and various other topics on weight and fitness followed.
“It began to encompass a lot more,” Caricaburu said. The paper began running healthy recipes on its weekly food page and fitness tips on its health page, as well.
The paper also decided to get a bit more involved by starting the “100 Days of Fun and Fitness.” Last summer, they printed a calendar at the beginning of every month suggesting exercise alternatives and giving times for recreational events.
“Friday was ride-your-bike- to-work day, Tuesday was walk to work,” Caricaburu said. Readers clipped coupons from the calendar if they engaged in the various activities and sent them in for a drawing. The winners received gift certificates to a local sporting goods store.
Carson said her e-mails are running “200 to one” positive for the Meltdown. She has heard some local gym members are upset that Meltdown participants are getting to work out for free.
The situation will only be temporary, Carson said, and others are telling her not to sweat it in the spirit of community betterment.
“There is a benefit to the clubs, too,” Carson said. “Some of the (Meltdown) people will obviously join.”
Carson said people need to spread the word that the Meltdown meeting Tuesday will be at the NU cafeteria at 7 p.m. Its capacity is 950 so it should be adequate, she added. Carson will be the speaker Tuesday night, and she will talk about making permanent lifestyle changes.
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