A Healthier Kansas City: The Not So Big KC Challenge

Not So Big KC ChallengeIn a nation where obesity and its related health problems are becoming more and more widespread, citywide weight loss challenges are becoming more and more commonplace. First came the 76 Tons of Fun challenge in Philadelphia in 2001, and it has been followed by many more similar examples: residents of Louisville, Ky.; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Oklahoma City have all been challenged to drop pounds in the name of their hometowns.

Most recently, the Not So Big KC Challenge launched in June 2012 as a five-month challenge between Mayor Sly James and Chamber of Commerce President Jim Heeter. The men competed to see who could lose the largest amount of weight and body fat percentage, among other indicators. In the end, Heeler came out slightly ahead with 13 percent total loss over James’ 11 percent.

Larger pool of participants, smaller waistlines

The positive results inspired James and Heeter to challenge local business leaders to the same competition in 2013. About 25 individuals participated in the six-month challenge, which concluded in July. Although not a citywide contest, the ultimate goal was for the business owners enrolled in the challenge to urge their employees to get involved, as well. From there, it was hoped, the move toward better health and wellness would become a phenomenon in a city with a reputation for poor health.

The 25 business and civic leaders who participated in the challenge wore Fitbit monitors that tracked activity levels. Each participant underwent a physical at the beginning and end of the challenge to determine if risk factors like cholesterol level and blood pressure changed during the six-month period.

A Facebook page was set up to allow participants and followers to post healthy recipes, links to health-related articles and similar items. This and other efforts allowed the community to take even greater part in the challenge.

Individual help crucial for success

Although the success of the 2013 Not So Big KC Challenge has yet to be determined, it can be said with great certainty that urging a community to drop pounds as a group is a noble goal—and a considerable challenge. Participants in events like these will see better results if equipped with weight-loss tools like fairs, consultations with nutritionists and online classes instead of just being turned loose to figure things out on their own.

Community changes

Cities shooting for mass weight loss goals should also consider greater measures like passing zoning laws to keep fast-food restaurants from setting up shop; taxing sodas and other sugary beverages; and offering better, more nutritious school lunches to set children on a healthier course for life.

City planning must also factor in community health initiatives. A study by the Institute of Medicine found that, while 20 percent of students aged 5 to 15 walked to school in 1977, only 12.5 percent of students in that same age group travel to school on foot today—perhaps because of a lack of available sidewalks. And residents of Kansas City apartments and homes need to have ready access to amenities like public parks, walking trails and bike paths in order to make exercise a part of their daily lives.

These strategies might take more effort, but the rewards are great. After all, participants in the Tucson Challenge—a relatively small community weight loss initiative that ran from 2003 to 2006—lost an average of six to 10 pounds per person. Kansas City—and, indeed, any community that holds a similar event—could learn a bit from Tucson’s strategy of educating participants in the importance of healthy dieting techniques. The goal of a healthier community is an important one well worth making some changes on both individual and citywide levels.


In addition to having a strong interest in men's health issues, Matt Herndon loves to spend as much time as possible with his wife and three kids. When he’s not rushing from his kids' sports activities to music lessons, he’s slowly whittling away at his honey-do list.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *