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Philadelphia Is on a Diet to Lose 76 Tons

It would be most unfair of us to pin the label "Fat city" on any municipality. But if somebody else does, and the mayor and many of that town's leading citizens seem to go along with it, then who are we to disagree?

CBS Correspondent Bill Geist has a very different "Philadelphia story."

It's a city where they still celebrate one of their great citizens, Ben Franklin, who was also one of their great big citizens. Ben probably wore relaxed-fit knickers.

Today, Philadelphia maintains that tradition as the city of brotherly love (handles) and was recently cited as the fattest city in the nation.

On what grounds did Men's Fitness magazine say Philadelphia is the fattest city in America? The magazine claims that 30% of residents are obese and that there are more pizza parlors in Philadelphia than any other city surveyed.

Philadelphians were so upset they almost couldn't eat that second cheese-steak sandwich.

"I think it's horrible, but you know, ever since I heard about it I been looking around. It's like--there's a lot of fat people in Philadelphia. Oh, my goodness. I could not believe it but it's so true," says one resident.

Mayor John Street says they've been caught greasy-handed and has decided that something has to be done

"I had a very definite reaction and my reaction was--we're guilty," says Street. "People need to exercise, to drink water, to reduce the fat content in their diet, to just exercise a degree of temperance."

"Sometimes you just have to cut back a little bit. Pare down, okay? And exercise and drink water and eat fruits," he adds.

Street hired a fitness czar, Gwen Foster.

"He got people's attention 'cause the czar simply means we're gonna take charge. We're gonna do something about this. We mean business," says Foster.

They challenged the entire city to lose 76 tons in 76 days, and you can almost hear the theme from Rocky urging on the exercisers.

There was a big fitness fest to show people how to exercise, how to eat healthy, and to calculate their BMI (body mass index).

The city is weighing in thousands of potential dieters. They're holding exercise classes in city parks. They're even going so far as to go door to door, weighing citizens.

The czar and the mayor are encouraging residents to eat less meat and more vegetables--a political hot potato in the city known as much for being the birthplace of cheese-steaks as the birth of a nation.

"I am not a vegetarian. I hasten to tell you I am not a vegetarian. I don't eat red meat," says Street. "If people want to have cheese-steaks, God bless 'em. That's just fine. But you probably shouldn't have a cheese-steak for breakfast and one for lunch and another one for dinner."

"Why not?" they ask at Pat's Steaks, the Constitution Hall of cheese-steaks and headquarters of the rebel opposition to the mayor's war on fat.

You can't get no salad here, say the owners. What about the mayor's weight-los program? "Forgetaboutit!"

"We sell thousands of cheese-steaks every day. They haven't tapered off during the weight-loss program," says the owner. "I think it's getting busier."

Here, they claim cheese-steaks are health food because they use soy bean oil to fry the steak. Pat's may be the world's largest industrial consumer of Cheez Whiz, which I was surprised to see on sandwiches because I always thought it was a roofing material.

And nothing complements a fine cheese-steak like a Mister Softee.

So it's an uphill battle, shedding 76 tons by July 3rd, But they're looking to a movie about another famous Philadelphian, Rocky, for inspiration.

The city does seem to be winning the challenge! That magazine now ranks Philadelphia as only our third-fattest city. But as we all know, having won the battle of the bulge, the struggle continues.

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