SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — An Illinois lawmaker is challenging others at the state Capitol to not only talk the talk on smaller government, but also walk the walk.
State Rep. Don Moffitt, a Republican from Gilson, isn't referring to trimming taxes or bureaucratic layers, but legislators' waistlines. He's starting a "fitness caucus" intended to encourage fellow lawmakers, lobbyists or anyone else at the statehouse to eat healthy and exercise.
His campaign will kick off with a weight-loss competition when lawmakers return next week to Springfield, a place more reputed for wining and dining than dieting.
"Losing weight is a decision. It's going to take determination," said Moffitt, who has lost 100 pounds since a doctor told him two years ago he may have to take diabetes medication. "We need to hear from each other what has worked."
Lawmakers and lobbyists say staying health is a challenge, especially while in session. Typically, lawmakers are in Springfield three days a week, two of which are often filled with reception dinners. They say it's not unusual to attend five or six dinners a night.
The choices aren't always the healthiest either. Among Springfield's most beloved foods is the Horseshoe — an open-faced dish in which a burger patty is covered with French fries and dripping melted cheese.
Some lawmakers are able to avoid the weight-gain trap, like House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who's known for eating apples and leaner menu options at his favorite local Italian restaurant.
State Sen. Pam Althoff, a McHenry Republican, said she has a reputation of encouraging her colleagues to meet at social events. But socializing at 10 or 12 receptions a week can come at a price. Althoff said she gained 45 pounds her first three years in Springfield, an experience she likened to the "freshman 15" — a term for college students who gain weight in their first year.
For the last few years, Althoff's hired a personal trainer.
"When you're on the floor 10 to 12 hours, you don't exactly eat the best food," Althoff said.
Moffitt said in addition to the weight-loss competition, he hopes to organize walks and health programs in collaboration with other health-oriented groups. And fitness caucus leaders hope to eventually move their mission beyond colleagues at the Capitol and back to their districts.
State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia said she's had physical education teachers tell her this is a good example for children. She also hopes to be a role model for minority groups with large rates of obesity.
"Even if I could do just a little bit, (helping one child change habits) goes a long way because it's generational," the Aurora Democrat said.
Leaders said their other ideas include marking healthy options on Springfield restaurant menus to working with the Illinois Department of Public Health.