From NBC's Lauren Appelbaum and Elissa Davis
Although the Obesity Society invited all of the Democratic and Republican candidates to their obesity conference, only Richardson accepted. Unlike at some appearances earlier this week, Richardson was a hit in front of about 50 researchers, clinicians, and George Washington Public Health professors. Several people in the crowd praised Richardson on a good performance and for "addressing the issue directly." They particularly applauded Richardson for saying obesity is a disease and not a behavior.
Richardson called for federal protection under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and an amendment to the American Disability Act to prevent discrimination against obese individuals. Richardson did say there must be national security exceptions for industries like the police and fire departments.
As governor, Richardson banned all junk food in schools via an executive order and made physical education mandatory. Today, he said the key is to "shift focus from the end game to pre-game -- that's called prevention." On the campaign trail, Richardson works out every day, telling reporters "you have to practice what you preach." He has lost 30 pounds in the last year.
Richardson also commented on Clinton's new health-care plan to reporters after his speech. "It looks very much like mine, doesn't it?" he said with a slight smile. "She thought a lot of my initiatives were a good idea, and she used them in her plan."
All of the major Democratic candidates sent advisers to speak on behalf of their campaigns. On the Republican side, only Giuliani, McCain, and Romney sent surrogates. McCain policy director Douglas Holtz-Eakin said the campaign will unveil its health-care plan next month and will be able to talk more about its obesity directives then. Morgan Downey, executive vice president of The Obesity Society, said his organization was in communication with the Thompson campaign as late as last night. But since Thompson has yet to release a full health-care plan, the campaign chose not to attend.
Huckabee, who has lost 110 pounds after realizing the health consequences of being obese, sent a letter for Downey to read in his absence. (Huckabee is campaigning in South Carolina today.) He called for prevention, including not smoking, eating healthier diets, and exercising.