DESOTO COUNTY, MS - While Mississippi is known as one of the fattest states in the country, tiny Hernando in DeSoto County is beating the odds. Hernando's efforts to get fit aren't going unnoticed.
The town's getting attention from other cities, national media and the White House. People all over the country want to know what Hernando's secret is. One of them? Sidewalks.
"If people don't have sidewalks they can't walk, if there are no bike lanes they can't cycle safely, no playgrounds they can't play," says Mayor Chip Johnson.
Johnson says give people an opportunity to be healthy, and they'll take it. It's been a year since Hernando was named the state's healthiest town, but Johnson says it doesn't stop there.
"To be the healthiest town in Mississippi was quite an honor for us, but it also put us in some pressure. We had to lead by example," Johnson says.
"We're trying to make people walk and bike," says Dewayne Williams, director of the county's Park and Recreation Department. "We're trying to prevent the urban sprawl."
And that means giving them the chance to do those things by building parks, encouraging people to go outside, even fixing broken sidewalks.
"There used to be only two people that could walk on one of our sidewalks, it was so bad," says Johnson. "Now you'll see in same hour 15 or 20 people because it's accessible now."
More and more people are taking advantage of what the city has to offer. People like Mary Slone, who travels from Southaven with her son.
"It's a very nice park," she says. "I think it's the nicest one in the area. It's worth the 20 minute drive to come down here."
With Mississippi fighting high childhood obesity rates and low life expectancies, Johnson says people's health has never been more important.
"We can't ever stop thinking about it," he says.
"Some people have to catch on to the vision of what we have in Hernando," adds Williams.
The mayor is asking people to show up at Lee's Summit Park at 6 p.m. Thursday, August 18, 2011. That's when an ABC crew will be in Hernando, filming an episode of a new show called "Everyday Health". The show is hosted by Mohammad Ali's daughter, Laila Ali. ABC says each episode will showcase "extraordinary-ordinary Americans who are facing or have overcome health issues." It will air Saturday mornings, after Good Mroning America.