Can a Former Taco Bell Pitchman Help Gov. Crist Develop a Youth Health Regimen?
Can a 335-pound basketball star -- whose endorsements once included Burger King, Taco Bell (left) and Pepsi-Cola -– help the state of Florida curb child obesity?
Shaquille O’Neal thinks so, announcing Monday that he will sit down with Gov. Charlie Crist next week to discuss methods in which schools can help kids eat healthier. The meeting, scheduled next Wednesday, will cover programs the Miami Heat center developed while working on his reality TV show Shaq’s Big Challenge, featuring O’Neal coaching six obese Broward County youths through an intensive weight loss and fitness regimen.
During a conference call with reporters Monday, O’Neal and the show’s producer criticized a “fast food culture” dominating schools and homes, where children eat fattening foods and get little exercise. O’Neal, who was named to the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness in March, spent months working with six experts to develop the fitness plans used on camera -– plans he said can be adopted across the entire state.
“I do consider (Crist) a personal friend of mine…(so) I’m just going to give him my two cents,” said O’Neal, who estimated a “50-50” chance Crist might adopt suggestions such as mandatory physical education classes in schools and healthier lunch menus. “I know they’re probably going to try and throw the money thing in my face. But (producers) and I have worked something out, where it doesn’t need to cost more…maybe a penny or 10 cents more.”
It's hard to judge how contrived this all is: will Crist, who already announced his own plans to promote health and wellness across the state, really utilize these plans O'Neal is presenting? Even if he wants to change things, can the Governor have much impact on a system greatly influenced by the federal government and by all the goodies school cafeterias must sell to stay in business?
A screener copy of the first two episodes veers between contrived drama (Shaq visits kids eating cheeseburgers in front of TVs in their living rooms) to genuine pathos (parents and children disssolve in tears upon hearing the kids have 30 to 50 percent body fat). Regardless of how contrived, there are substantive moments -- a look at how parents feed kids' problems by allowing junk food meals and sedentary lifestyles.
But a recent visit to ABC's website for the show proves how hard this fight will be: the home page had a Taco Bell ad, and the page for O'Neal's new show boasted an advertisement for Coca-Cola.