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Published: Tuesday, 1/6/2009

Lucas County Commissioners appoint "weight loss czar"

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lucas County Commissioners voted Tuesday to appoint radio host Andrew Zepeda as its first "weight loss czar."

Known as Andrew "Z" on his morning show on 92.5 WVKS, Mr. Zepeda is to encourage county residents to lose 1 million pounds in 2009. The 5-foot-9 Perrysburg resident has lost about 80 pounds in the past 12 months through diet, exercise, and a lap-band surgery procedure, and is down to 325 pounds.

Article appeared in earlier versions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.

Lucas County weighs plan to put citizens on a diet

Lucas County government is committed to slimming down for the new year, and it's ready to ask residents to do the same.

A week after passing a budget with 5.6 percent less annual spending, county commissioners this morning will weigh a proposal to appoint the county's first "weight loss czar."

If approved, this person will be entrusted to inspire county residents to lose a total of 1 million pounds, or slightly more than 2 pounds per person, by year's end, Commissioner Ben Konop said.

The lead candidate for the unpaid position, who already carries weight on local airwaves, would instantly become the voice of moderation, encouragement, and guilty conscience for many in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan in their struggle to tighten belts and drop dress sizes.

He is Andrew Zepeda, better known as Andrew "Z," who hosts a namesake morning show from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. on radio station WVKS, known also as KISS-FM.

Few know weight loss's challenges better: The 5-foot, 9-inch Mr. Zepeda, who is 39, said he topped out at 405 pounds before lap-band surgery in January, 2008, and lifestyle modifications helped him shed more than 75 pounds. He now weighs 325 pounds, with a goal "to get down to the twos."

"You want someone that's going through the same thing that you are going through to help motivate you, as opposed to being told by someone that's skinny, who's never had that weight problem," Mr. Zepeda said yesterday.

"They don't understand how tough it is, and I do understand those struggles. I've lived with them my own life."

The notion of a county "weight loss czar" was a joint idea of Mr. Konop and Mr. Zepeda. Mr. Konop is a guest on Mr. Zepeda's show about once a month.

Mr. Konop said Ohio Department of Health statistics bear out the need for a 1 million pound weight-loss challenge. More than a third of Lucas County residents are considered overweight, and more than a quarter are considered obese.

What's more, an American Heart Association study released last year gave Toledo some of the worst marks among 200 metro areas for rates of obesity, diabetes, fast-food outlets per capita, unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, and cardiac-related deaths among women.

Mr. Konop said that along with the many well-documented health benefits of weight loss, including lower risks of cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes, a more fit work force could lower county employers' health-care costs and improve worker productivity.

Appointing a weight loss czar would be the first step in a comprehensive county-led weight-loss effort, which is to include partnerships with businesses. More details will be announced later this month, Mr. Konop said.

"There is no cost to taxpayers, and I think there could be a significant positive impact to the community."

Several U.S. cities, including Philadelphia and Houston, have named fitness czars in recent years. The appointment often is made after a city has received a dubious distinction, such as topping a "fattest city" list like Philadelphia did early this decade.

While weight-loss movements are commonly associated with chiseled personal trainers or svelte aerobics instructors, Mr. Konop said he believes an individual like Mr. Zepeda who has publicly battled obesity can be highly effective. "He's had a lifelong battle with it and he knows how tough it is, and that's why he's going to be leading the effort."

Last January Mr. Zepeda underwent lap-band surgery, during which a restrictive band is placed around the upper part of the stomach to reduce digestive speed and capacity. The procedure sharply reduces appetite, but unlike gastric-bypass surgery, it does not involve cutting or removing any of the digestive tract.

Since the surgery, Mr. Zepeda said he has also been working out three times a week with a personal trainer at his home in Perrysburg.

Mr. Zapeda believes overeating is the toughest addiction to kick. "If you're addicted to drugs or you're addicted to alcohol or smoking, you can cut it out cold-turkey," he said. "But obviously you have to eat, so the struggle to not overeat happens every five to six hours we can't keep away from food."

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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