NEW YORK (March 29, 2007)-- As a youngster, Al Roker shopped for clothes in the “husky” section of the department store, “like someone was going to strap me to a dog sled.”
The phrase may be out of style, but the need for plus-sized clothes has only increased. The 52-year-old NBC personality kept his own experiences with weight control in mind while producing a documentary on childhood obesity for the Food Network.
“Childhood Obesity: Danger Zone” premieres Saturday (9 p.m. EDT) on the cable network.
The documentary explores why more than 12 million children and teenagers have serious weight problems and the health risks they face. It profiles young people who have successfully turned things around.
“If you run the numbers out, this would be the first generation that has a shorter life span than their parents,” Roker told The Associated Press. “That’s scary.”
Obesity in young people has quadrupled in 40 years, he said. Many factors contribute: sugary junk food made attractive by relentless television advertising, the rise in fast-food restaurants, sedentary kids more interested in video games or computers than running in the yard, and schools that don’t offer much physical education anymore.
“Parents bear a responsibility,” he said. “Children model what they see. So if you, as a parent, are not eating well and do not lead an active lifestyle, that’s what they are going to do.”
Roker makes his living as the “Today” show’s weatherman, but his younger children, ages 8 and 4, don’t watch him. He bans television during the week. His 8-year-old daughter stays busy with sports, but since she inherited dad’s body type, weight control is an issue.
“The Rokers are a stocky group,” he said. “We’re from the Caribbean. We’re built low to the ground and stocky to withstand hurricanes.”
Roker, married to fellow television personality Deborah Roberts, does most of the cooking at home and tries to make simple, low-fat meals. When the family goes out to eat, they wave off the breadbasket.
Roker’s own serious weight problems began when he entered college in upstate New York, where the idea of seconds or thirds at the dinner table was revelatory. He underwent gastric bypass surgery in 2002 when his weight reached 330 pounds.
He dropped to 200 pounds but is around 230 now.
“I’ll never go back to 330 pounds, but just like anybody else I’ve got to watch what I eat and I have to exercise,” he said.