Fighting the huge epidemic

By Gus Bode

Local disc jockey takes challenge

He admits his weakness for pecan pie. More was never enough for Wes Bennett. But since August, Bennett has been managing to overcome his craving for the sinful desert.

Bennett, who is 6 feet 3 inches tall, has his goal set to trim down to 235 pounds from his current weight of 357 by next fall.

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The Marion country music disc jockey is gaining momentum in his efforts to live a long and healthy life. Before Bennett changed his eating habits, he weighed 402 pounds. Since late August, he lost 45 lbs and is still working on his diet day by day.

“I could feed a small county,” Bennett joked.

Bennett and a dozen other radio hosts across the nation are publicizing their weight problems through their radio shows as part of Men’s Health magazine’s “Million-Pound Challenge.”

Forty-year-old Bennett knows firsthand how a person’s eating patterns can turn fatal. His family has a history of obesity and the complications that go along with it.

When Bennett was four, his father died of a heart attack. His mother had an artificial heart valve implanted eight years ago and his older brother died almost a year ago from a stroke.

“Forty-five years of age is too young to die of a stroke,” he said.

Gregg Stebben, an editor of Men’s Health Magazine, goes on several radio shows for interviews. He stumbled into the idea of using disc jockeys as a way to publicize the magazine’s challenge.

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“Radio [disc jockeys] confessed to me how overweight they are. I was stunned,” Stebben said. “Here I am in live radio. For someone to say that publicly – this is a plea for help.”

The Million-Pound Challenge was launched in June after it was featured in a three-day period on ABC’s Good Morning America. The challenge ends Nov. 25. The participating radio show hosts will be featured in Men’s Health in early 2003.

Bennett plans to lose 150 pounds next fall and has been encouraging his listeners, male or female, to take part in the station’s “Wes and Tess Million-Pound Challenge Team.”

Bennett and Stebben point to recent statistics from the 1999-2001 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that say 64.5 percent of American adults, or six in 10, are either overweight or obese.

The rapid pace of obesity rates leads to an increase in related health complications such as heart problems, strokes and diabetes, Stebben said.

Bennett said he has dabbled with short-term or fad diets, ranging from the cabbage soup diet to the football team diet, then resorting to over-the-counter diet pills and he failed each time.

Ever since Bennett took the challenge this past summer, he has cultivated food selectivity and a more disciplined eating habit. A high-protein and low carbohydrate intake constitutes his eating plan. Bennett eats four to five small meals a day and makes sure to gulp down at least a quart of water a day.

“This challenge is saving his life,” Stebben said.

For years, Bennett drank caffeinated soda to stay energized throughout his hectic radio schedule. But now, he said he is no longer dependent on caffeine since he’s found energy in eating well, brisk walking and boxing.

Bennett said he has gained more energy and feels less knee and back pain as he is losing weight. Even his ring finger has slimmed down.

“I have a ring size of 15 but now [the ring] slips off so I’m going to have to get some ring bands,” he said.

These days are looking better than those in the past. Bennett recalled one embarrassing experience when his doctor could not weigh him because the scale only went up to 300 pounds.

Another time, Jared the Subway guy, who lost weight on the Subway sandwich diet, was a guest on Bennett’s show and brought his old slacks and discussed how obese he used to be. At the time, Bennett thought, “Well, that’s one size smaller than what I’m wearing.”

Bennett credits his ongoing success to his family, friends and the listeners who “keep an eye on what’s on my plate” and said now is the time for people with weight problems to act.

“It does get easier. There is hope out there and there are things you can do. Talk to friends and family,” Bennett said. “If you don’t start, you’re not going to be any further along.”

Meanwhile, Bennett’s personal motivation to get fit keeps him in check.

“In the long run, I’d like to stay around and watch my kids graduate from high school and be able to enjoy being a grumpy old man sitting on a porch,” he said.

Reporter Jane Huh can be reached at [email protected]

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