Byline: Jon Meacham
The former president on obesity at home and abroad.
Former president Bill Clinton has had his own struggles with obesity. Now he's tackling the issue through his foundation as well. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Jon Meacham last week at the magazine's Executive Forum in Washington. Excerpts:
I wanted to ask you to talk about your personal experiences with childhood obesity. And obviously, you've had some recent heart issues as well.
Well, first, I was born right after World War II, when the prevailing wisdom was that the only healthy babies were fat babies. And I had food shoved down my gullet from the time I was an infant. Also, the stuff was bad. You know--Southern fried food. But I lost a lot of weight when I was in high school, and I started running seriously in law school. But even so, in my early 30s, I had my first recorded incidence of high cholesterol. So I started eating a lot of oat bran and all those other things that cut it naturally. And I was doing fine. I passed all my stress tests, including the one I took immediately before I had problems. I noticed that I was particularly exhausted taking these long, fast walks up steep hills, but I never had any tightness in my chest unrelated to exercise--until the night I came back from my book tour in 2004, and I knew something was wrong. I went to the hospital, and they found I had this massive blockage, and the next day they did the surgery. So I was doing fine. Then I passed all my stress tests again. But I looked kind of pale. And I was tired all the time. So I went to the doctor. He said, "I think you dropped a vein." So I stayed awake [during surgery] and watched them put stents in me. I have been even more careful with my diet since I came back. I completely stopped eating red meat except once a month, and now I'm almost all vegetables and fruits. And besides, my daughter's getting married this summer, and she says it's the most important day of her life and I need to look better walking down the aisle than I do right now.
What is your foundation doing on this front?
I think the agreement we made with the soft-drink industry and the one we made with the snack-food industry are a good beginning. We've had an 88 percent reduction in the caloric content of the beverages shipped to schools in the first six months of this year as compared to five years ago, before we started this. I try to treat the soft-drink companies the way I did with the people who supply AIDS drugs to my foundation. I don't ask them not to make money. I ask them to make money in a different way. They got into low-calorie drinks and no-calorie drinks and smaller portions for the calorie drinks, and over a period of years, that's a breathtaking change. …