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Will mayors' weight-loss efforts inspire the public? Add to ...

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Doug, who is a city councillor, announced last week that they’d be embarking on a weight-loss campaign – complete with public weigh-ins. To add some healthy rivalry to the competition, they challenged Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to join in.

While Mr. Nenshi says he hasn’t packed on the pounds since taking office last year, his busy schedule makes it hard to fit in workouts. His office has already started its own weight-loss challenge.

But will the politicians’ slim-down campaigns be enough to convince citizens to shape up?

Toronto-based weight-loss coach Tzabia Siegel thinks so. “Let’s face it, about two-thirds of our national population is overweight – a lot of people can relate to the challenge of what they’re doing.”

“When you get a public figure that is putting their self out there, it can motivate a lot of people,” Ms. Siegel says. But she notes that the best fitness role models are those who “tap into universal values ... A good role model in terms of weight loss is going to be losing weight not because of someone telling them they should, or wanting to improve their appearance, but for their health, friendships, family or for their own peace of mind.”

The city politicos might want to take a page from these public figures, who successfully slimmed down and plumped up their image.

Charles Barkley

The sports announcer and former basketball pro caught some flak recently when he was overheard calling Weight Watchers, which he promotes, a “scam.” Scam or not, it’s worked for him. He has lost 38 pounds in three months.

Weight Watchers’ senior vice-president of marketing, Cheryl Callan, notes that Mr. Barkley’s success has inspired millions of men to lose weight: “His concern for his health long term is something every guy can relate to. He sums it up best when he says he ‘does not want to be a fat, old man taking lots of pills.’” Ms. Siegel agrees, saying, “A good role model has to be relatable ... Here’s this big strapping guy, he’s a jock and he’s going to lose weight.”

Kelly Osbourne

A stint on Dancing With the Stars and a diet heavy on lean protein helped jumpstart her weight loss. By December, 2010, she’d landed the cover of women’s fitness magazine, Self, having shed nearly 50 pounds.

“The way I see Kelly is that here’s a young woman who’s struggled with her self-esteem all her life and has really been bashed quite hard by the media and the public.” says Ms. Siegel. Ms. Osbourne sets a good example for dieters, she says, because of her support network. “She’s really tapped into other people for accountability, which is a really important feature of making change in terms of weight.”

Jason Alexander

In 2010, the Seinfeld star wrote and appeared in a number of Jenny Craig commercials. His 30-pound weight loss helped attract men to the program. “Many of our male clients relate to Jason Alexander’s weight-loss journey and look up to him as an inspiration to lose weight and get healthy for their families,” said Jenny Craig CEO Patti Larchet in a statement.

“He’s a famous guy but he also stands for that average sort of guy,” Ms. Siegel says. And Mr. Alexander’s statements in interviews echo concerns Ms. Siegel often hears. “He talks a lot about getting back control and this is a running theme I’ve found with my clients. It’s the lack of control that’s probably the most concerning thing to them.”

Jennifer Hudson

The Oscar-winning actress and singer lost 80 pounds on Weight Watchers, inspiring her to write a weight-loss memoir, I Got This: How I Changed My Ways and Lost What Weighed Me Down. “Jennifer has been a great spokesperson for Weight Watchers because people really identify with her,” Ms. Callan says.

Strong and successful, Ms. Hudson reminds Ms. Siegel of her business-leader clients. “For her it wasn’t about not loving her body, it was about this inner drive to do what she wanted with her body. She took control and she went for it.”

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