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TEDMED 2013

Mick Cornett: How an obese town lost a million pounds

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Oklahoma City is a midsized town that had a big problem: It was among the most obese towns in America. Mayor Mick Cornett realized that, to make his city a great place to work and live, it had to become healthier too. In this charming talk, he walks us through the interlocking changes that helped OKC drop a collective million pounds (450,000 kilos).

- Mayor
Mick Cornett is mayor of Oklahoma City, OK. Full bio

How many of you have been to Oklahoma City?
00:12
Raise your hand. Yeah?
00:14
How many of you have not been to Oklahoma City
00:15
and have no idea who I am? (Laughter)
00:17
Most of you. Let me give you
a little bit of background.
00:21
Oklahoma City started in the most
00:24
unique way imaginable.
00:27
Back on a spring day in 1889,
00:28
the federal government held what they called
00:31
a land run.
00:33
They literally lined up the settlers
00:35
along an imaginary line,
00:36
and they fired off a gun,
00:38
and the settlers roared across the countryside
00:39
and put down a stake,
00:41
and wherever they put down that stake,
00:43
that was their new home.
00:45
And at the end of the very first day,
00:46
the population of Oklahoma City
00:49
had gone from zero to 10,000,
00:51
and our planning department
00:55
is still paying for that.
00:56
The citizens got together on that first day
01:00
and elected a mayor.
01:02
And then they shot him.
01:05
(Laughter)
01:06
That's not really all that funny
01:11
-- (Laughter) --
01:14
but it allows me to see what type of audience
01:15
I'm dealing with, so I appreciate the feedback.
01:17
The 20th century was fairly kind to Oklahoma City.
01:22
Our economy was based on commodities,
01:24
so the price of cotton or the price of wheat,
01:27
and ultimately the price of oil and natural gas.
01:30
And along the way, we became a city
01:33
of innovation.
01:35
The shopping cart was invented in Oklahoma City.
01:37
(Applause)
01:41
The parking meter, invented in Oklahoma City.
01:46
You're welcome.
01:52
Having an economy, though,
01:55
that relates to commodities
can give you some ups and some downs,
01:57
and that was certainly the case
in Oklahoma City's history.
02:00
In the 1970s, when it appeared
02:03
that the price of energy would never retreat,
02:05
our economy was soaring,
02:07
and then in the early 1980s, it cratered quickly.
02:09
The price of energy dropped.
02:12
Our banks began to fail.
02:15
Before the end of the decade,
02:16
100 banks had failed in the state of Oklahoma.
02:18
There was no bailout on the horizon.
02:22
Our banking industry, our oil and gas industry,
02:24
our commercial real estate industry,
02:27
were all at the bottom of the economic scale.
02:29
Young people were leaving Oklahoma City in droves
02:32
for Washington and Dallas and Houston
and New York and Tokyo,
02:35
anywhere where they could
find a job that measured up
02:38
to their educational attainment,
02:40
because in Oklahoma City,
the good jobs just weren't there.
02:41
But along at the end of the '80s
02:45
came an enterprising businessman
02:46
who became mayor named Ron Norick.
02:49
Ron Norick eventually figured out
02:51
that the secret to economic development
02:53
wasn't incentivizing companies up front,
02:55
it was about creating a place
where businesses wanted to locate,
02:57
and so he pushed an initiative called MAPS
03:00
that basically was a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax
03:03
to build a bunch of stuff.
03:05
It built a new sports arena,
03:08
a new canal downtown,
03:10
it fixed up our performing arts center,
03:12
a new baseball stadium downtown,
03:14
a lot of things to improve the quality of life.
03:17
And the economy indeed seemed to start
03:19
showing some signs of life.
03:21
The next mayor came along.
03:23
He started MAPS for Kids,
03:26
rebuilt the entire inner city school system,
03:27
all 75 buildings either built anew or refurbished.
03:30
And then, in 2004,
03:35
in this rare collective lack of judgment
03:38
bordering on civil disobedience,
03:43
the citizens elected me mayor.
03:45
Now the city I inherited
03:49
was just on the verge
03:52
of coming out of its slumbering economy,
03:53
and for the very first time,
03:57
we started showing up on the lists.
03:58
Now you know the lists I'm talking about.
04:02
The media and the Internet
04:04
love to rank cities.
04:05
And in Oklahoma City,
04:08
we'd never really been on lists before.
04:10
So I thought it was kind of cool
04:13
when they came out with these
positive lists and we were on there.
04:14
We weren't anywhere close to the top,
04:17
but we were on the list, we were somebody.
04:19
Best city to get a job,
04:22
best city to start a business,
04:24
best downtown --
04:26
Oklahoma City.
04:28
And then came the list
04:30
of the most obese cities in the country.
04:34
And there we were.
04:39
Now I like to point out that we were on that list
04:42
with a lot of really cool places.
04:45
(Laughter)
04:47
Dallas and Houston and New Orleans
04:48
and Atlanta and Miami.
04:52
You know, these are cities that, typically,
04:53
you're not embarrassed to be associated with.
04:55
But nonetheless, I didn't like being on the list.
04:57
And about that time, I got on the scales.
05:02
And I weighed 220 pounds.
05:06
And then I went to this website
05:08
sponsored by the federal government,
05:10
and I typed in my height, I typed in my weight,
05:11
and I pushed Enter,
05:15
and it came back and said "obese."
05:16
I thought, "What a stupid website."
05:21
(Laughter)
05:23
"I'm not obese. I would know if I was obese."
05:26
And then I started getting honest with myself
05:32
about what had become
my lifelong struggle with obesity,
05:34
and I noticed this pattern,
05:39
that I was gaining about two or three pounds a year,
05:41
and then about every 10 years,
I'd drop 20 or 30 pounds.
05:44
And then I'd do it again.
05:47
And I had this huge closet full of clothes,
05:49
and I could only wear a third of it at any one time,
05:51
and only I knew which part of the closet I could wear.
05:54
But it all seemed fairly normal, going through it.
05:59
Well, I finally decided I needed to lose weight,
06:04
and I knew I could because
I'd done it so many times before,
06:07
so I simply stopped eating as much.
06:10
I had always exercised.
06:12
That really wasn't the part of the equation
06:13
that I needed to work on.
06:15
But I had been eating 3,000 calories a day,
06:17
and I cut it to 2,000 calories a day,
06:20
and the weight came off. I lost about a pound a week
06:22
for about 40 weeks.
06:25
Along the way, though,
06:29
I started examining my city,
06:30
its culture, its infrastructure,
06:34
trying to figure out why our specific city
06:38
seemed to have a problem with obesity.
06:41
And I came to the conclusion
06:45
that we had built an incredible quality of life
06:47
if you happen to be a car.
06:51
(Laughter)
06:55
But if you happen to be a person,
06:58
you are combatting the car seemingly at every turn.
07:01
Our city is very spread out.
07:06
We have a great intersection of highways,
07:08
I mean, literally no traffic congestion
in Oklahoma City to speak of.
07:12
And so people live far, far away.
07:15
Our city limits are enormous, 620 square miles,
07:18
but 15 miles is less than 15 minutes.
07:21
You literally can get a speeding ticket
07:25
during rush hour in Oklahoma City.
07:27
And as a result, people tend to spread out.
07:30
Land's cheap.
07:33
We had also not required developers
07:36
to build sidewalks on new developments
for a long, long time.
07:39
We had fixed that, but it had been relatively recently,
07:41
and there were literally 100,000
07:44
or more homes into our inventory
07:46
in neighborhoods that had
virtually no level of walkability.
07:49
And as I tried to examine
07:57
how we might deal with obesity,
08:00
and was taking all of these elements into my mind,
08:02
I decided that the first thing we need to do
08:03
was have a conversation.
08:07
You see, in Oklahoma City,
08:09
we weren't talking about obesity.
08:11
And so, on New Year's Eve of 2007,
08:14
I went to the zoo,
08:19
and I stood in front of the elephants,
08:21
and I said, "This city is going on a diet,
08:23
and we're going to lose a million pounds."
08:27
Well, that's when all hell broke loose.
08:31
(Laughter)
08:32
The national media
08:35
gravitated toward this story immediately,
08:37
and they really could have
gone with it one of two ways.
08:42
They could have said,
08:45
"This city is so fat
08:46
that the mayor had to put them on a diet."
08:48
But fortunately, the consensus was,
08:52
"Look, this is a problem in a lot of places.
08:54
This is a city that's wanting
to do something about it."
08:56
And so they started helping us
09:00
drive traffic to the website.
09:02
Now, the web address was
09:04
thiscityisgoingonadiet.com.
09:06
And I appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show"
09:11
one weekday morning to talk about the initiative,
09:14
and on that day, 150,000 visits
09:18
were placed to our website.
09:21
People were signing up,
09:23
and so the pounds started to add up,
09:25
and the conversation that I thought
09:27
was so important to have was starting to take place.
09:29
It was taking place inside the homes,
09:33
mothers and fathers talking about it with their kids.
09:35
It was taking place in churches.
09:38
Churches were starting their own running groups
09:41
and their own support groups
09:43
for people who were dealing with obesity.
09:44
Suddenly, it was a topic worth discussing at schools
09:47
and in the workplace.
09:50
And the large companies, they typically have
09:52
wonderful wellness programs,
09:54
but the medium-sized companies
09:55
that typically fall between the cracks
on issues like this,
09:57
they started to get engaged and used our program
10:00
as a model for their own employees
10:03
to try and have contests to see
10:04
who might be able to deal with their obesity situation
10:06
in a way that could be proactively
beneficial to others.
10:10
And then came the next stage of the equation.
10:15
It was time to push what I called MAPS 3.
10:20
Now MAPS 3, like the other two programs,
10:24
had had an economic development motive behind it,
10:26
but along with the traditional
economic development tasks
10:29
like building a new convention center,
10:31
we added some health-related infrastructure
10:33
to the process.
10:36
We added a new central park, 70 acres in size,
10:38
to be right downtown in Oklahoma City.
10:41
We're building a downtown streetcar
10:43
to try and help the walkability formula
10:45
for people who choose to live in the inner city
10:47
and help us create the density there.
10:49
We're building senior health and wellness centers
10:52
throughout the community.
10:56
We put some investments on the river
10:57
that had originally been invested upon
10:59
in the original MAPS,
11:02
and now we are currently in the final stages
11:03
of developing the finest venue in the world
11:05
for the sports of canoe, kayak and rowing.
11:08
We hosted the Olympic trials last spring.
11:11
We have Olympic-caliber events
coming to Oklahoma City,
11:13
and athletes from all over the world moving in,
11:15
along with inner city programs
11:18
to get kids more engaged in these
types of recreational activities
11:19
that are a little bit nontraditional.
11:23
We also, with another initiative that was passed,
11:26
are building hundreds of miles of new sidewalks
11:30
throughout the metro area.
11:34
We're even going back into some
11:36
inner city situations
11:38
where we had built neighborhoods
11:39
and we had built schools
11:41
but we had not connected the two.
11:43
We had built libraries and
we had built neighborhoods,
11:45
but we had never really connected the two
11:47
with any sort of walkability.
11:49
Through yet another funding source,
11:51
we're redesigning all of our inner city streets
11:53
to be more pedestrian-friendly.
11:57
Our streets were really wide,
11:58
and you'd push the button
to allow you to walk across,
12:00
and you had to run in order to get there in time.
12:03
But now we've narrowed the streets,
12:06
highly landscaped them, making them
more pedestrian-friendly,
12:08
really a redesign, rethinking the way
12:11
we build our infrastructure,
12:13
designing a city around people and not cars.
12:15
We're completing our bicycle trail master plan.
12:20
We'll have over 100 miles
12:22
when we're through building it out.
12:24
And so you see this culture starting to shift
12:27
in Oklahoma City.
12:30
And lo and behold, the demographic changes
12:32
that are coming with it are very inspiring.
12:34
Highly educated twentysomethings
12:37
are moving to Oklahoma City from all over the region
12:39
and, indeed, even from further away, in California.
12:41
When we reached a million pounds,
12:48
in January of 2012,
12:51
I flew to New York with some our participants
12:53
who had lost over 100 pounds,
12:55
whose lives had been changed,
12:57
and we appeared on the Rachael Ray show,
12:59
and then that afternoon,
I did a round of media in New York
13:01
pushing the same messages
13:05
that you're accustomed to hearing
about obesity and the dangers of it.
13:07
And I went into the lobby of Men's Fitness magazine,
13:11
the same magazine that had put us on that list
13:16
five years before.
13:21
And as I'm sitting in the lobby
waiting to talk to the reporter,
13:23
I notice there's a magazine copy
13:26
of the current issue right there on the table,
13:28
and I pick it up, and I look at the headline
13:31
across the top, and it says,
13:33
"America's Fattest Cities: Do You Live in One?"
13:34
Well, I knew I did,
13:39
so I picked up the magazine
13:41
and I began to look,
13:43
and we weren't on it.
13:46
(Applause)
13:49
Then I looked on the list of fittest cities,
13:55
and we were on that list.
13:58
We were on the list as the 22nd
fittest city in the United States.
14:01
Our state health statistics are doing better.
14:04
Granted, we have a long way to go.
14:07
Health is still not something
14:09
that we should be proud of in Oklahoma City,
14:10
but we seem to have turned the cultural shift
14:12
of making health a greater priority.
14:16
And we love the idea of the demographics
14:19
of highly educated twentysomethings,
14:22
people with choices, choosing Oklahoma City
14:23
in large numbers.
14:25
We have the lowest unemployment
in the United States,
14:27
probably the strongest economy in the United States.
14:29
And if you're like me, at some point
14:32
in your educational career,
14:33
you were asked to read a book called
14:36
"The Grapes of Wrath."
14:38
Oklahomans leaving for California
14:41
in large numbers for a better future.
14:44
When we look at the demographic shifts
14:46
of people coming from the west,
14:48
it appears that what we're seeing now
14:49
is the wrath of grapes.
14:51
(Laughter)
14:54
(Applause)
14:56
The grandchildren are coming home.
14:59
You've been a great audience and very attentive.
15:03
Thank you very much for having me here.
15:05
(Applause)
15:07

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About the speaker:

Mick Cornett - Mayor
Mick Cornett is mayor of Oklahoma City, OK.

Why you should listen

The world is noticing Oklahoma City’s renaissance and its mayor, Mick Cornett. His list of awards includes nods for urban design, health, sports and the arts. Newsweek called him one of the five most innovative mayors in the country. London-based World Mayors listed him as the No. 2 mayor in the world, and Governing magazine named him the Public Official of the Year.
 
Best known for helping Oklahoma City attract an NBA franchise and putting Oklahoma City “on a diet,” Cornett also led the charge to pass MAPS 3, an innovative $800 million investment in parks, urban transit, wellness centers and infrastructure that will dramatically reshape Oklahoma City and enhance the quality of life of its residents.

More profile about the speaker
Mick Cornett | Speaker | TED.com