Dr. Robert Cluck, Mayor, Arlington, Texas
For Dr. Robert Cluck, childhood obesity is a deeply personal and professional issue. Before he was mayor of Arlington, Texas, he was an obstetrician-gynecologist for 28 years, and as the Vice President for Medical Affairs at Arlington Memorial Hospital, he continues to manage other doctors. Cluck knows first hand that obesity can have a devastating impact on children as they grow older. "It's frustrating particularly because I am a doctor," he says about his struggle to highlight the dangers of obesity. "I just know what the outcomes are, and they are not good."
Cluck was inspired to help bring about change when he began noticing increasing numbers of obese children in Arlington, a city of over 350,000 between Dallas and Fort Worth. Because he recognized that obese children are likely to become obese adults, and face other serious health problems such as diabetes, Cluck decided to dedicate himself to preventing childhood obesity in Arlington.
Cluck began by working with the local school district and the superintendent to improve food offerings in schools. Soft drink machines were removed, and more nutritious foods are now available. The school also began encouraging students to measure their physical activity by counting their footsteps. "Prior to every summer," Cluck says, "we have meetings with kids outdoors and we give them pedometers. We challenge them to weigh themselves on that day and then when they come back to school in three months, to weigh themselves again." Prizes are given out depending on weight loss, and Cluck says the effort has been popular and successful.
Dallas's NFL team, the Cowboys, may also be recruited to encourage children to be more physically activity. A new stadium for the team is being built in Arlington - it's set for completion in 2009 - and the league and players will soon begin reaching out to encourage physical fitness among the area's children. Cluck says that, in his experience, leading by example produces the best results. "It's easy to tell people to go out there and walk, but you really have to try and set examples," he says.
The city has built a large trail where citizens can walk and roller blade. The trail is eight miles long now, and will soon be expanded to twelve. "We've pretty well mobilized our entire parks department to help with these projects," Cluck says, "because obviously they are the ones that are out there on most days in the parks and trails."
Cluck credits his strong working relationship with his superintendent as being a decisive factor in raising awareness about childhood obesity. If the superintendent can "get access to the classrooms or the schools with novel programs such as the use of pedometers," Cluck says, "they will be successful. I think the partnerships are what make all this work. I couldn't do this all by myself."