For Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who became a health celebrity after losing 110 pounds upon being diagnosed with diabetes, getting America fitter isn't going to happen on the back of government edicts.
"What we need is a very gradual, positive shift. ... Rather than tell people what they can't do, make it easier for them to do the right thing," the author of "Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork" told more than 100 listeners at Southern Adventist University's first Wellness Summit in a presentation titled, "Journey of Wellness."
The timing for Huckabee was significant, as he noted that 10 years ago, when he weighed around 300 pounds, he was told by his doctor that, unless he cleaned up his act, he was entering the last decade of his life.
He explained the current health crisis by discussing older, successful ways in which the American government helped its citizens become safer and more responsible, namely the anti-smoking, anti-littering, seat belt and anti-drunken driving campaigns.
Legal change, like legislation to limit high-calorie food, can only occur after societal norms change, Huckabee explained, and change happens in four distinct steps.
First, people's attitudes have to change through education and advertising, such as the crying Native American anti-littering campaign or the ads depicting crash test dummies in a collision. Then, the government has to foster an environment to encourage people to do the right thing, such as installing public trash cans or requiring cars to install seat belts in new models.
Only then will people start to change and the government can codify punishments such as for littering and driving without wearing a seat belt, Huckabee said.
"When the government tries to dictate our behavior, they always mess it up," he concluded.
Huckabee noted that America is still in the infancy of its health campaign, and mocked politicians such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg who has proposed bans on large servings of sodas.
Instead, he encourages parents and school leaders to do simple things like making fruit available to children and to stop rewarding them with unhealthy food to break the connection between behaving well and candy.
In an interview before the presentation, Huckabee also reaffirmed his support of U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., who he said has kept all his campaign promises since being elected two years ago. Huckabee campaigned on the representative's behalf in the last election cycle.
"I'm really, really proud of the way he's served these past two years," he said.
Contact staff writer Steve Hardy at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.