When it comes to winning the battle of the bulge, the nationwide struggle with obesity and junk food, the governments of El Paso County and Colorado Springs will do what it takes -- including turning to scare tactics.
Over the past two weeks, city and county employees have been encouraged to watch Super Size Me, a documentary in which the protagonist grubs down McDonald's three times a day for a month, gains 18 pounds, loses his sex drive and almost dies of liver failure.
"When we just teach the basic facts of nutrition, everybody ignores it," said Karen Rooks Nauer, medical services administrator for both the city and county. Super Size Me, she said, can serve as a wake-up call.
Rooks Nauer helped organize five showings of the film, including a lunchtime showing hosted by Councilman Larry Small that filled Council chambers.
"We're not trying to manage employees lives," said Jeff Greene, the county's director of employee benefits. "We're trying to give them assistance so they can manage themselves."
A half a million saved
Greene hopes the movie, which highlights the fact that two out of every three adults are overweight or obese, will inspire 30 percent of county workers to complete a health screening, a health questionnaire and a physical, and begin to participate in a new health-awareness program called "Reach Your Peak."
If they do so, he said, the county will save at least $116,000 this year and $600,000 next year in medical expenses.
The city hopes to save at least $515,000 by 2007 with a similar program.
"There are probably those people [in county government] who survive on one form of fast food or other," said County Commissioner Dennis Hisey, who, pointing to his own gut, said he could do better. But he added that anyone who eats McDonald's three times a day, like the guy in Super Size Me, "has to be pretty stupid."
County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who introduced one of the movie showings, said she stays fit by always choosing to eat either dessert or bread at each meal.
"We don't eat a lot here," said Clark -- who previously served on the Colorado Springs City Council. "Not like City Council, where they have lavish lunches."
Clark admits that she frequents the downtown hot dog stands. "Sometimes I'll run over there and get a bratwurst," she said.
A good customer
Wayne Weathers, owner of three hot dog stands in Colorado Springs, doesn't seem to think much of the documentary.
"What a joke," Weathers said from his stand outside the County Office Building. "I think that's biased, picking on one industry like that."
But asked what he'd do if Super Size Me protagonist and filmmaker Morgan Spurlock were to stop by his stand three times a day for dogs, Weathers responded, "I'd say he's a good customer."
He added that even healthy people eat hot dogs once in a while. For example, one judge who runs marathons buys one hot dog a week and stays fit. The same goes for eating McDonald's, he said.
"People are like guinea pigs. Look at the low-carb diet, where's that at now," he said. "If they want to make a point, be fair about it."
-- Dan Wilcock