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Ruben Studdard signs autographs for Kim Gilliland, left, and Felicia Ellison, of Tuscaloosa during the kickoff of Scale Back Alabama weight loss campaign. The once rotund American Idol winner wants to inspire diet changes in his home state.
AP photo by Bob Farley
Ruben Studdard signs autographs for Kim Gilliland, left, and Felicia Ellison, of Tuscaloosa during the kickoff of Scale Back Alabama weight loss campaign. The once rotund American Idol winner wants to inspire diet changes in his home state.

Scaling back Studdard
2003 American Idol winner
coaches state toward weight loss

By Desiree Hunter
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Members of the Just a Few Cats band knew something was different about lead singer Ruben Studdard when they boarded their tour bus and reached for the snacks they were used to eating on the road.

Gone was the fried chicken, soft drinks, sweets and other trans-fatty treats.

In their place was fruit, water and, occasionally, some wheat bread with peanut butter.

Hoping to inspire

Band members weren't exactly ecstatic, but Studdard, the once-rotund 2003 American Idol, hopes to inspire such diet changes in his home state, which ranked No. 2 in the nation for obesity in a study last year by Trust for America's Health. After shedding nearly 100 pounds in the past several months, Studdard kicked off the Scale Back Alabama weight-loss campaign in Birmingham on Thursday at Vulcan Park.

"It was a great proposal, and I know that it's important that we as a state try to develop a healthier lifestyle as a whole," he said. "I just thought it was something that I wanted to be involved with and I think we can help a lot of people achieve their weight loss goals through that."

The 28-year-old Birmingham native, who is the spokesman and coach for the two month-program, began his personal weight-loss campaign when he attended the Duke Diet & Fitness Center last summer. He said that by becoming a vegetarian and stepping up his exercise regimen, he feels he can be a good role model for others.

The program is being jointly sponsored by the Alabama Department of Public Health and Alabama Hospital Association. Participants in teams with three to five members will weigh in at designated centers on Jan. 22 and weigh out on March 19.

Hospital association spokeswoman Rosemary Blackmon said the goal is for participants to lose 10 pounds each during the eight weeks. An estimated 1 million Alabamians — or 25 percent — are obese and if that segment reaches the 10-pound, eight-week goal, the state will lose 10 million pounds, Blackmon said.

"That's the equivalent of 50 Vulcans," she said, referring to the city's 56-foot cast iron statue of the Roman god.

Blackmon said there's been tremendous interest in the program with even out-of-state residents calling for more information. She said Studdard, who greeted throngs of fans and signed autographs at the announcement, is a big part of the buzz.

Ringing off the hook

"The phones have not stopped ringing, we've gotten hundreds of calls," she said. "I think it's just that everybody realizes it's (obesity) a problem for us."

Corporate sponsor Barber Dairies is offering a $1,000 prize to each person on the team that loses the largest percentage of weight. Miriam Gaimes, nutrition and physical activity director for the health department, said officials are also working to secure prizes for local winners.

Gaimes said the effort is meant to be more than just a New Year's resolution diet, but a long-term change.

"We want it to be very realistic so that you can do it for the rest of your lives," she said. "There's no sense of doing something and losing the weight, but gain it back the minute you stop doing it."

Blackmon said contest winners will be announced on April 2 and there's already talk of possibly doing similar programs in the future.

Studdard will dish out advice and personal stories about his own weight loss journey to participants through e-mails and postings on the Scale Back Alabama Web site. One of his tips for success is to avoid temptation as much as possible — hence the tour bus changes.

"I felt like and I still feel like being on the road, that's a place where a lot of unhealthy eating goes on, so I just decided that I wouldn't have that on my bus anymore," he told The Associated Press in an interview. "It was an unwelcome change by the band because they're all used to eating, but I just had to make sure there were no temptations on the bus for me."

Studdard's latest album, "The Return," hit stores in October. He was nicknamed "The Velvet Teddy Bear" when he won the American Idol competition in 2003.

Just a Few Cats member Alvin Garrett toured with Studdard on the American Idol tour and is helping to coordinate the weight-loss program.

He said while the group misses having Studdard provide junk food on the bus, they admire his efforts and appreciate his gentle nagging about their eating habits. As for Studdard's image changing to being less of a teddy bear, Garrett's not concerned.

"If you think about it, everybody wants to hug Barry White, everybody wants to hug Luther Vandross and Gerald Levert, but they're gone," he said. "They're gone and all we can think about is the great music they used to play. We want to keep him around. We'll find him a new nickname."


On the Net

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