Richardson on the Weighty Issues
Gov. Bill Richardson pledged to eliminate discrimination against those who are overweight and promised to make the on-going obesity epidemic a top national priority of his administration if he is elected president.
"Our next President must take a prominent and public role...to increase the public's understanding of obesity and remove the stigma," Richardson told obesity researchers and policy makers at a day-long meeting, sponsored by the Obesity Society, a nonprofit group that specializes in the treatment and research of obesity.
The Society invited all the presidential candidates to address how the next president should tackle the obesity epidemic. Richardson was the only candidate to accept the invitation from the group, which is trying to make the obesity epidemic a key issue for the 2008 presidential race. Not even former Ark. governor Mike Huckabee, who often speaks about his own dramatic weight loss and is the author of"Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork" made it to the meeting. Other campaigns sent representatives who participated in panel discussions before the group.
"We must help people understand that it is a disease, not a behavior," Richardson said. "And those of us who are overweight or obese are not lazy or undisciplined. We cannot allow Americans to be taken in by the easy comfort of stereotypes."
As Governor of New Mexico, Richardson signed an executive order to eliminate junk food from school vending machines and worked to give school children access to healthy breakfasts.
If elected president, he promised to work with Congress to include federal protection for the obese in the Americans for Disabilities Act and by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. .
Discriminating against those who are overweight or obese, "is an issue of basic civil rights," he said. "There are no federal laws that protect obese Americans from discrimination in the workplace, school or anywhere else. This must change."
Richardson also called for increasing research and prevention efforts for obesity throughout the lifespan, but particularly for children. "Many health care experts are telling us that our own children could be the first generation of Americans who do not outlive their parents," Richardson said, calling that "an ugly and awful break with America's historic promise of a better tomorrow. It is unacceptable."
The meeting's organizers had lunch ready for the governor in the green room before his key note speech. Richardson's staff ordered him a platter of cold cuts, saying that "he's doing that protein thing." But in the green room, society staffers said that Richardson looked at the platter of meat, then grabbed a cookie instead.
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